Wye and Usk Foundation: Saving the Earth

Emily Cooper


A lot of charities are concerned with Saving the Earth, but some take it a bit more literally. Despite underpinning almost every terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, we take our soil for granted. Soil is currently being lost ten times faster than it's being created—and there are no signs of slowing. These losses occurs due to erosion; the displacement of the upper layer of soil. When it rains, these particles wash down into field drains and rivers, carrying pesticides, chemical fertilisers and slurry, as well as washing away important nutrients. In fact, agricultural sources account for approximately 75% of sediment load being found in watercourses. The future of our soil and our rivers go hand in hand. If we want to preserve them, we need to act fast.

Saving the Earth

Last year, The Rivers Trust, the WWF and The Angling Trust took a closer look at the relationship between agriculture, soil and river pollution. The resulting report, aptly titled “Saving the Earth”, was highly-praised and launched in the House of Commons. It was found that up to one third of farms do not comply with England's water protection laws. This has resulted in widespread soil degradation and agricultural pollution of our rivers, incurring costs of £1.2 billion a year across England and Wales. Clearly, intervention is sorely needed.
Saving the Earth called for firm, fair enforcement of existing and new regulations to outlaw excessive soil erosion, water run-off and pollution, in addition to the provision of well-trained farm advisors to provide free advice to landowners. Finally, the report declared that targeted incentives should be offered to compensate farmers for changing land use in high-risk areas.

A Visit from the Minister

In light of the "Saving The Earth" initiative, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, visited the Wye and Usk foundation to observe the fantastic work which had already taken place. The visit, hosted by local farmer Chris Norman, was attended by The Rivers Trust, the Environment Agency, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Angling Trust. The minister saw how, at the site in Herefordshire, fantastic progress has been made to bring the environment and agriculture into sync. The event demonstrated how agricultural issues such as pollution and soil loss can be combatted without making a dent in farmer's pockets—and, in some cases, practices which benefit rivers actually improve the profitability of agriculture! The Wye Catchment Partnership, including the Wye and Usk Foundation, has conducted invaluable work in supporting farmers to adopt these practices. By providing farmers with a toolbox of knowledge and practices which can reduce soil loss, the Partnership aims to reduce soil loss and pollution dramatically. Simon Evans of the Wye and Usk Foundation said: "I was really pleased that the Minister could come and visit one of the farms we’ve been working closely with and it was great to show him the progress we’ve made in improving agricultural practices and the impact that has been having on the water quality of the river.
“The Wye Catchment Partnership has really helped our farm advisors by combining better-targeted Government support for farmers with more effective regulation from the Environment Agency. In Herefordshire, this combination supports farmers to adopt more practices that reduce pollution and increase profits.”
In the future, we hope that agriculture and the environment can exist in harmony. The work carried out by the Wye and Usk Foundation is a great step towards achieving this goal.
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