The government may have won a legal challenge brought by environmental campaigners over pollution in the River Wye but campaign group River Action still says it feels vindicated after a High Court judge agreed that farmers must obey rules intended to prevent pollution of the river Wye.

The High Court ruled that the EA and the UK government were implementing the law properly and were not required to pursue sanctions against farmers for every breach but River Action  says although they lost the case they believed it had led to changes in the way the Environment Agency enforces laws around farming.

Environmental group River Action mounted the case over what it said was a failure by the Environment Agency (EA) enforce so-called farming rules for water, specifically on the spreading of farm manure on fields in the river catchment which has been linked to its declining health.

It had wanted a full judicial review into whether the EA had failed in its statutory duty in this area – however Mr Justice Dove has now rejected this.

But River Action claims that its legal bid still served a purpose, by obliging the EA to improve its approach to enforcement in order to convince the court that it was indeed meeting its responsibility.

The judge said in his judgment handed down on May 24 that there had been “a conflict in the interpretation” of the farming rules between the EA and Defra, its parent body in government which “has been bought into the public domain for determination”, while the EA has now “revised and refined” its processes.

River Action argued that “excessive amounts” of chicken manure in particular spread on land within the protected Wye catchment have cause widespread algal blooms along the river.

River Action’s chairman Charles Watson said: “Thanks to our claim, the EA has changed its approach to enforcing the farming rules for water.

“We remain concerned that agricultural regulations are still being broken across the Wye catchment, and that the EA is still not being held accountable for its failure to enforce the law.”

He added: “We are taking immediate advice with regards to appealing the judgment.”

The EA and NFU were approached for comment.