BEING able to bathe safely in the River Wye on a hot day “should be a fundamental right”, according to broadcaster, writer and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

The River Cottage star took a dip in the river on a visit to Hoarwithy near Ross-on-Wye last Wednesday (June 26).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and North Herefordshire Green candidate test the water quality in the Wye at Hoarwithy.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and North Herefordshire Green candidate test the water quality in the Wye at Hoarwithy. Photo: BBC Local Democracy (BBC Local Democracy)

A long-term campaigner on food health and environmental issues and supporter of the Green Party, he was in the county backing the party’s North Herefordshire election candidate Ellie Chowns.

He said rivers such as the Wye: “Should be a facility we can all enjoy for our physical health and mental well-being... other countries take that for granted, but we are frightened to go in the river.”

However having carried out a test of the water’s pollution levels, the two ascertained it was safe to take a dip – which a stripped-off Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall ascribed to the lack of recent rainfall and hence runoff from surrounding fields.

Spreading poultry manure on fields, widely identified as a factor in the pollution problem, “needs to be done incredibly sensitively, under a legislative framework that gives the river real protection, with guidelines on timing and location”, he said.

But there is also a “huge national problem with our own sh*t getting into rivers”, which he said was “a direct consequence of the privatisation of water businesses, which seems completely wrong to me”.

“That’s why I completely support the Greens’ policy of renationalising them, to make sure they do what they do for all of us,” he said.

He also backed the party’s policy of increasing funding for government agencies tasked with enforcing environmental standards, saying these have been “eviscerated” and “left toothless”.

“The Wye should be teeming with life today – insects, birds, fish – but it isn’t,” he added.

Dr Chowns said: “We have to work with farmers, and the Greens will nearly triple funding for nature-friendly farming.”

“We need also need a legally binding framework making the polluters responsible for reducing the pollution, not having them subsidised by the taxpayer,” she added.

“Only by having water companies in public ownership can we guarantee they work in the interests of the public rather than of shareholders.”