Wye: the change
The River Wye – or Gwy in Welsh - is the UK’s fourth longest river, at 155 miles, and Wales’ second, flowing from Plynlimon to the Severn Estuary. The origin of its name is uncertain, but variations on wandering and wave are popular suggestions. Fitting, for this, by modern standards, wild and untamed river[i] with beaches, boulders, wide sweeping bends, riffles and pools.
The Wye is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), one of just nine in Wales and the longest. This designation was made in recognition of its importance for wildlife and is the highest form of protection a river can receive, with Atlantic salmon, freshwater pearl mussel, white-clawed crayfish, and floating plantain being the most notable species and ranking it as one of the UK’s most significant rivers for wildlife. The river is also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The Wye has found a place in many people’s hearts, being cited as the birthplace of tourism with interest first being inspired by Gilpin’s Observations of the River Wye, spurring the UK’s first package tours and, since, it has remained a place to walk, canoe, fish, swim and wonder.
But, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it can be deceptive. Look below the surface ripples and you will start to see something rather ugly. The River Wye is far from being in good condition. You are now more likely to see the river in the news under headlines like “It’s Like Pea Soup” and “Crisis in the Water…”
We are one year into the UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. And we are coming out of a pandemic where many people realised their connection to nature and the importance of spending time in the wild to their wellbeing.
We have been shown by the Dasgupta Report that “nature is a blind spot” in economics but that we can no longer afford for it to be absent from national finance accounting systems or by economic and political decision-makers.
The UK hosts COP26 in November, where our politicians will make pledges to become global leaders in reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change.
In November, China will host the delayed COP15, or more correctly the Convention on Biological Diversity, billed as the biggest biodiversity conference in a decade. At this conference, world leaders will pledge to restore nature and work to a target of managing 30% of the land and 30% of the sea for nature by 2030. Currently, around 5% of the land in the UK is in good condition for nature.
This is all positive and Radnorshire Wildlife Trust welcomes this shift in focus and the increased energy and interest in tackling the tragic loss of nature we have been experiencing. And yet, right under our feet, on our patch, there is a very sad and sorry example of where we need action far more than words.