By Debbie James

An environmental charity has come under fire from Welsh farming unions after blaming poultry farmers for harming rivers.

NFU Cymru says it has raised its “extreme frustration’’ with the Wye and Usk Foundation after the charity published a release claiming pollution from free-range poultry farming is seriously damaging the River Wye.

The charity said the nation’s “favourite river is facing ecological disaster” after turning “putrid green”.

The River Wye has “a sickly appearance, with its water resembling pea and, at other times, French onion soup”, it added.

However Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said the recent algal blooms on the river came at a time when river levels were close to a record low and after the sunniest May on record, which raised water temperatures.

These factors all contribute to the development of algal blooms in rivers.

Proactive visits to poultry units have identified no serious issues, it said.

NRW also pointed out that long-term phosphate levels in the Wye catchment have been declining.

NFU Cymru said the charity had given a “poor portrayal” of the industry.

Farmers says they have been left feeling scarred and hurt at the accusations made by an organisation with whom they have worked in partnership with for many years to enhance water quality.

Egg producer Gwyn Price said the foundation’s press notice was a “scathing attack” on the poultry sector, which would take a long time to recover from the damage.

“I, like many farmers I have spoken with, feel that trust, respect and confidence in this organisation is now undermined as a result of its gross misrepresentations of farming in mid-Wales,” he said.

“I think the public deserve to know factual information and as poultry producers we are highly regulated, monitored and routinely inspected.”

The Wye and Usk Foundation says 20 new free-range chicken sheds were approved in the area last year, and another 11 are under consideration for planning approval.

The foundation said NRW and Powys County Council have a “legal responsibility” to protect the river, but claimed they have been “apparently unwilling to use the existing laws to protect the river from the nation’s desire to eat more free-range eggs”.

It said that since 2008, the upper catchment now hosts an extra 10 million chickens, with the Ithon, one of the river’s tributaries in Powys, having the bulk of these.

“This number of chickens produces large amounts of highly reactive phosphates from their manures, which find their way into the rivers,’’ it states.