THE government body charged with keeping England’s rivers clean is facing a barrage of criticism that it has failed to keep tabs on pollution in the river Wye from egg farms.

Campaign group River Action claimed in an Observer article at the weekend it had evidence that the Environment Agency (EA) had turned a blind eye to many egg farms in allowing chicken manure to drain straight into the Wye river system.

Its chair Charles Watson accused environmental regulators of “scandalous neglect over the years”.

In response the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it was “untrue” that has allowed such pollution, claiming the storage and processing of animal waste is “closely regulated”, and that its agency the EA “does not hesitate to take enforcement action” where breaches are found.

The EA in turn said it carried out 493 farm inspections and issued 285 improvement actions in the Wye catchment between April and December last year, thanks to £10 million in additional funding since 2021.

But investigative journalist Nicola Cutcher tweeted she had been told by the EA it does not regulate egg-laying units of fewer than 40,000 birds, and had inspected larger units in the Wye catchment only nine times in the last four years.

Hereford and South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman, who has previously criticised the EA, tweeted in response that Ms Cutcher had made a “trenchant rebuttal” of the Defra/EA statement, and asked them to “in turn respond to the claims [she] made”.

Defra and the EA have been approached for a response.

Meanwhile two groups campaigning for better protection of the Wye have clashed over the issue.

Welcoming River Action’s efforts to “bring this out into the light”, Friends of the Upper Wye, which focuses on the river upstream of Hereford, said there were “major problems with pollution coming from free-range egg farms”.

But Friends of the Lower Wye, which campaigns on the southern stretch of the river, responded: “Major pollution does NOT come from free range eggs, that is pure bullsh*t.”