There are thought to be at least 20 million birds at any one time in the river Wye catchment across Herefordshire and Powys, while the largest poultry processor, Avara, processes some two million birds a week at its Hereford plants.
Now law firm Leigh Day says that, due in particular to the use of poultry manure as a fertiliser in the area, the high-intensity farming is badly affecting the water quality of the river, to which landowners and others have a right under common law.
The firm says landowners who may have lost quality fishing and bathing in the stretch of the Wye that their land borders may have a potential nuisance claim against chicken producers, among other potential claims.
Businesses, wildlife organisations and swimming, angling and water sports clubs may also have the right to use the watercourse and the right to receive water in its natural state, it adds.
The civil claim is being investigated by a team led by Leigh Day partner Oliver Holland, who said: “The work of dedicated researchers and conservationists has revealed the acute harm caused to the river, and as a result, to those who live in its catchment.
“We believe poultry producers have a case to answer for their role in bringing this deplorable situation about. We urge all those who think they may have been impacted by this urgent issue to contact us.”
Campaigning charity River Action is supporting the civil legal claim, in addition to separate legal action it is pursuing against the Environment Agency, which it says has failed to enforce its own rules intended to prevent pollution of the Wye from farming.
Its chairman and founder Charles Watson said: “It is our belief that a number of major agricultural processing companies, who have profited hugely from the rapid growth of intensive poultry production, should have been more than aware of the environmental damage their supply chains have inflicted on the river.”
Story by Local Democracy Reporter Gavin McEwan