Save the Wye Catchment: An Appeal

by Residents of the Golden Valley

Save the Wye Catchment: An Appeal

by Residents of the Golden Valley
Residents of the Golden Valley
Case Owner
We are a group of concerned residents of the Golden Valley in Herefordshire. We are actively campaigning to protect our environment from pollution and poor decision making.
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Residents of the Golden Valley
Case Owner
We are a group of concerned residents of the Golden Valley in Herefordshire. We are actively campaigning to protect our environment from pollution and poor decision making.
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This case is raising funds for its stretch target. Your pledge will be collected within the next 24-48 hours (and it only takes two minutes to pledge!)

Latest: June 12, 2022

Protecting the Tragic Tributary of the Wye

Dear Friends

It’s been many weeks since we contacted you with news on our case. This is because there has been nothing to report on the legal front. More than a year after our High Court hearing…

Read more

The beginning of our campaign 

Over 1200 generous people have already supported us in the first part of our campaign under the heading SOS: Save the River Wye.   This was so we could take Herefordshire Council to judicial review of a planning decision that stripped away protections from the River Dore and the Wye Catchment.

We now need to raise additional funds for the next stage of our campaign.  

Why we are fundraising again 

Unfortunately, the High Court judge finally published his long-awaited judgment on Wednesday 25 August 2021. He dismissed our case in the Judicial Review

Our legal team advises us that, on critical points, the judgement is flawed and is materially wrong in both fact and law. Remarkably the judge even writes: “If I am wrong. .” and then adds “The Court of Appeal will be in better position to determine” these points. 

In discussions with our advisors, we have decided as a group of local residents that we must appeal this judgment. We feel we have a moral obligation to continue, to represent all the people who have donated to the campaign so far because they care deeply about our river systems.

Unfortunately, the timescale for the appeal process is extremely tight. We must first ask the High Court for permission to appeal. We have barely two weeks, until 14th September, to prepare and make our submission.

How your contribution will help

Your kind contribution will help us to us to prepare our case for appeal as fully as possible. We need to raise £15k immediately and £35k to go all the way to an appeal.  We will leave no stone unturned in attempting to raise these funds but must rely on the generosity of everyone who cares about the state of our rivers to help us.

This case has national relevance. If we succeed at appeal, we will have ensured that planning decision makers in England and Wales cannot bypass the rules designed to protect sensitive natural systems from harm

Background to the case 

The original decision by Herefordshire Council decision failed to consider the environmental and ecological impacts of the development on the River Dore. The Dore, which is a tributary of the Monnow, is in the River Wye Special Area of Conservation (SAC) catchment. The rivers in the SAC are already severely ecologically stressed, in large part because of pollution from intensive poultry and livestock farming.

The legal case focused on the failure by the Council to undertake an assessment of the Bage Court development under the 'Habitats Regulations' (HRA) and, therefore, failing to protect the River Wye and its tributaries from further deterioration. The Council’s initial position was that no assessment was required because the site was not in the catchment of the River Wye. They acknowledged subsequently that they were wrong on this issue following our expert evidence to the Court. Part of our challenge was that the failure to undertake HRA assessments on all intensive agricultural developments within the catchment was wrong because it meant that on sites like this, there would be no assessment of the impact of manure run-off into the water courses and, inevitably, these developments will contribute to the worsening of pollution. 

The judgment ignores advice from our expert ecologists and hydrologists but takes at face value and ‘is in no doubt’ that the Council’s had made ‘detailed’ inquiries with Natural England regarding the risks posed by this development to the River Dore within the River Wye Sac. In fact, all that the Council did was to search Natural England’s Impact Risk Zone (IRZ) data on the internet to conclude, wrongly, that the River Dore is not in the Wye SAC. Alarmingly for the purposes of open democracy, ‘owing to the sensitive nature of the County of Herefordshire’, the data utilised by the Council is not available to the concerned public.

This judgment is of extreme importance nationally. The Court has effectively told Herefordshire Council, and by extension all other rural councils, that there is no need to carry out Habitats Regulations Assessment of livestock developments - even though we know that intensive livestock development is one of the main causes of the pollution of our rivers.  It opens the door for developments to be approved through the planning process without the necessary environmental checks and balances. It will be far reaching at a time when our rivers – like the Wye - are under massive pressure from pollution. They are dying, as confirmed by many public bodies. The degradation of our rivers is starkly revealed in the recent Rivercide documentary, yet no coordinated responsibility is being taken for protecting them.

Please help us go to the appeal Court to win protection for our precious and vulnerable river systems.

The Judgment is Case no CO/2511/2020.

Many thanks for your help once again.

Update 5

Residents of the Golden Valley

June 12, 2022

Protecting the Tragic Tributary of the Wye

Dear Friends

It’s been many weeks since we contacted you with news on our case. This is because there has been nothing to report on the legal front. More than a year after our High Court hearing we are still waiting for the date for our Appeal although there are indications that we may hear shortly.  So far this has been a two-year marathon requiring nerve, determination and fund raising. We have done well in the past two years, but we still need to raise an additional £15K to fund this High Court appeal.

However much has happened to raise public awareness of the increasingly dire state of our rivers nationally and of the Wye In particular. George Monbiot and Feargal Sharkey highlighted this at the Hay Festival on 4 June. George mentioned our case in detail. In an emotional moment for our campaign group, the audience of 800 gave rapturous applause in support of our case and legal action.  Sadly, the link to the event is paywalled currently but we are working to get a free link and will post it here as soon as possible.

George then described what is happening in a typically passionate and erudite piece in the Guardian on June 10th. He drew attention to our case because of the important legal precedent it will set for both councils and water companies. This is the relevant extract.

 A crowdfunded case is soon to be heard at the court of appeal, brought by people in Herefordshire’s stunning Golden Valley, challenging the planning permission granted in 2020 for yet another giant livestock unit. The case hinges on the question of whether, for legal purposes, the River Dore, which flows through the valley, is a tributary of the Wye. No one disputes that the Dore is a tributary of the Wye. But Herefordshire County Council has argued that, in law if not geography, the river does not belong to the catchment, so no assessment under the habitat regulations was needed before it approved the new unit. ‘

We badly need this kind of support. The analysis of data from regular testing by Citizen Scientists of the rivers in the Wye catchment confirms that the Dore is in particularly bad condition. It is now labelled a ‘tragic tributary’ of the Wye.

This reinforces the urgency and the importance of winning our legal action. We need to be successful to protect the Dore and all other smaller rivers where Councils and regulators can’t be bothered to assess the cumulative impacts of development along their banks. This relates particularly to the toxic impacts of runoff from intensive agriculture. In this test case, Hereford County Council declined to do this. In recognition of its importance, the Good Law Project has also submitted points for inclusion in our barrister’s skeleton argument to the Court.

Why is this so important? As George makes clear, runoff from intensive agriculture has already killed 90% to 97% of the Wye’s water crowfoot (Ranunculus) beds. Crowfoot, like mangroves in tropical seas, anchors the entire ecosystem. Any remaining life is threatened by repeated blooms (population explosions) of single-celled algae, fed by the extra nutrients in the water. As a result, the science says that like many rivers nationally the Wye catchment is close to ecological death. Algal blooms were seen on the Wye as early as March this year.

It is very rare for such an appeal to be approved. But the Lord Justice who gave the go ahead to our case wrote it has a “real prospect of success”. At a time of acute economic anxiety when there are many other calls on everyone’s budget and many equally deserving causes, can we ask you to dig deep one more time to support our case?

If we win, we will set a precedent that will benefit all rivers across the country. We hope you agree that we cannot let the case fail because of lack of funds

Update 4

Residents of the Golden Valley

Feb. 21, 2022

This Case is Too Important to Lose for Lack of Funds

This case is about forcing local councils to properly assess the impact of farming developments on rivers.

Two years ago, Herefordshire Council approved a planning application for expanding industrial livestock production in the Golden Valley. The site was close to the river Dore, a tributary of the Monnow, which flows into the Wye. The proposed development would create more manure, causing even more phosphates and other toxins to run into the Dore and thence the Wye - itself already close to death from pollution. However, Herefordshire Council planners maintained that the Dore is not within the Wye Catchment, so they did not carry out the legally prescribed Habitat Regulations Assessment.

Although our application for judicial review of this decision was dismissed, we have - most unusually - been granted leave to appeal. The Lord Justice who granted the appeal has said it has a “real prospect of success”.

Our solicitors, Leigh Day, say: ‘’We know that the current protections of riverine habitats are failing to prevent their ecological degradation. The situation is made even worse when existing laws are not properly enforced.’’

The existing laws should have protected this river.  Victory by us in the Appeal Court will ensure councils can no longer evade their legal duty to protect all our rivers.

If we lose our case, the legal framework for protecting our rivers will be weakened fundamentally, thereby invalidating local efforts to save them.

The case has now attracted national interest, including coverage by Planning Magazine and Ends Report, the UK’s influential source of intelligence on carbon, sustainability, and environmental issues. The latest issue has an article which covers our case in detail. 

These cases are tough, time-consuming, and expensive. This is why we urgently need your financial support.

We have already raised over £14000 but we need a further £22,000 to take this case to appeal. We mustn’t fail because we lack the funds to proceed. This case is just too important.

Please keep backing us so that we can fight this case to a successful conclusion!

Update 3

Residents of the Golden Valley

Jan. 25, 2022

''A Real Prospect of Success.''

Best New Year greetings and our thanks to you all for your patience.

We have important and positive news to share with you. Five months after we filed our request to the Court of Appeal, we have been given the go ahead for our important case.

The RT Hon Lord Justice Stuart-Smith writes in his decision dated 18 January that “I consider the appeal is arguable and has a real prospect of success”.

This is a fantastic development, and we want to thank everyone who has supported us to date. We are particularly grateful to our dedicated legal team: Leigh Day Solicitors and Alex Goodman, Barrister at Landmark Chambers.

Whilst we await a court date, we have the urgent task of mobilising fundraising for this next crucial stage in our long battle.

We now need to raise £24,000 urgently to fund this appeal process to take us to our £35k target. May we call upon you again?

This case has national significance. Winning the appeal will set an important new legal benchmark:

  • It will ensure a more rigorous planning process to protect rivers like the Wye and its catchment.
  • It will ensure that intensive agricultural developments close to sensitive river systems will be subject to Habitats Regulations Assessment before approval.

Public concern about intensive farming and resultant pollution is rising in response to the scale of the damage. The dire state of our rivers has recently been confirmed by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee on 13 January 2022. and the Environment Agency on 18 January 2022.

The Wye is particularly damaged by pollutants, including from sewage and from overwhelming levels of phosphate and nitrate pollution from agriculture. This was confirmed by George Monbiot’s brilliant Rivercide- Resilience programme live from the Wye on 14 July 2021. 

We know that everyone’s spending is now under pressure from inflation and rapidly rising energy and fuel prices, but the actions needed to save rivers like the Wye are more urgent than ever.

Winning this case will be a very important brick in the wall.

Update 2

Residents of the Golden Valley

Dec. 4, 2021

Season's Greetings from the Wye Catchment

We send seasonal greetings to all who love our rivers and have supported us so generously this year during our protracted legal campaign  to protect the Wye catchment.

We have had to remain patient in recent weeks whilst we wait for the Court of Appeal to decide to allow us to proceed with the next important stage of our case. As yet, we have no idea when we may hear. If and when we do get a hearing date, we hope we can call on your generosity and support once again.

In the meanwhile, we wish you all the enjoyments of the season, in the company of family and friends. We look forward to celebrating a successful legal outcome in 2022.

Update 1

Residents of the Golden Valley

Sept. 21, 2021

Grounds for Appeal Submitted

Hi there,

Thank you so much for your pledge and for supporting our case! We have reached our initial target and, as a result, have been able to begin our appeal process.

The grounds for the appeal were lodged with the High Court on September 14th and we are waiting now to hear if we will be given permission to proceed.  The recent disastrous and erroneous judgment has, ironically, ensured that this case now has national significance. We have received support publicly and privately from many individuals and bodies who are alarmed that, in the context of mounting concern about the health of the Wye catchment, this judgement weakens the regulatory framework designed to protect it.

These concerns are well-founded.  Residents of the Golden Valley have established the River Dore Citizen Science Project, in partnership with the Wye Salmon Association, to test the waters on the River Dore and its tributaries. The photo below shows that readings at one of the testing sites (21st September) showed levels of phosphates which are over 20x normal levels. Agricultural runoff is a major contributor to this pollution.  We must find a way to manage this better to protect the health of our rivers.  This cannot be done by trashing the regulatory framework and eroding the powers and duties of statutory agencies. This is why we are taking legal action.

We are determined to press on and are now fundraising to reach our stretch target, which we will need to take the case all the way through the appeal. We hope we can continue to count on your continued support.

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