3 August 2022
Climate Change and the River Wye

Jesse Norman writes for the Hereford Times

“May you live in interesting times”, they say. Well, the past few weeks have been an interesting time, to say the least.

Westminster politics has been heated to boiling point, of course, with the resignation of the Prime Minister.  But more immediately relevant has been the baking summer heat, with a new record temperature of 40.3C at Coningsby on July 19th, and Hereford itself hitting the high 30s.

That is bad for people, and bad for livestock. But, especially combined with the very low recent levels of rainfall, it has dealt a further serious blow to the River Wye, already struggling with phosphate pollution.

Tiny rainfall and abstractions to water crops pushed the level at the Old Bridge to around 0.01 meters -- just ten centimetres!  Far below the typical range of 0.1 meters – 3.3 meters.

Low flow and increased water temperatures are potentially ruinous to the already fragile fish population.  Following great public concern, Natural Resources Wales conducted an emergency release of water from the Elan Valley, but that could only make a small difference.

So, what does all this mean?  Nothing could more vividly illustrate the effects of climate change than the combined impact of these different factors on the Wye.  But I think there are three more specific conclusions that we need to draw as well.

The first is that the whole issue of water conservation and use needs to be addressed in a far more integrated and effective way than hitherto. After all, it is now 14 years since the last government strategy document.

This should apply across the UK as a whole. But it should focus in particular on specific river catchment areas. As a cross-border catchment, the Wye would make an excellent starting point.

The second is that there is every possibility that the politics of water will become shaped by present disputes over devolved government.

Because of the UK’s geography, water tends to accumulate in Wales and Scotland, while the east of England regularly faces drought conditions. The need to balance source and use is another reason for a cross-UK approach.

Finally, it is very good news that we have been able to form a cross-border River Wye Working Group.  This is targeted at the phosphates problem. It needs to get properly up and running. But in time it could form a template for a more integrated collective effort to tackle these vital wider issues.