A MAJOR chicken supplier to Tesco and other leading supermarkets says manure from its farms is part of the problem of pollution in the Wye.

Avara Foods told an online meeting of the Wye Nutrient Management Board that it is now in the "final stages of evaluating a range of major initiatives to remove its chicken manure" - estimated to be about 150,000 tons per year - from the river’s catchment area. The manure has traditionally been spread on fields, but recent work by the University of Lancaster has indicated that Herefordshire’s agricultural land is completely saturated by phosphates, which in turn run off into the river causing algal blooms.John Reed, Avara head of agriculture, told delegates from councils, environmental watchdogs and conservation groups at the board meeting: "We are accepting a level of responsibility here. We are part of the issue and we will be part of the solution."While not a direct contributor to River Wye pollution, we recognise that the use of our chicken litter on land in the Wye catchment does have an impact."He said the company - which owns a giant processing plant in Hereford and another one in Abergavenny - is looking at using the manure as a fuel source for generating renewable energy by incinerating it into ash and biochar that can be easily transported to parts of the country that need phosphate-based fertiliser for arable farming, and treating it via new anaerobic digester-based technology.Avara is also examining ways of importing less phosphate into the catchment in its chicken feed in the first place.It confirmed that if these initiatives went ahead, then all its chicken manure would be exported out of the area.Pressure group River Action demanded urgent action over Wye pollution in a letter to Avara, Wye Valley egg producer Noble Foods and retailer Tesco last month.And following the latest statement, the firm has now agreed to meet campaigners next month for further discussions.River Action chairman Charles Watson, who visited Ross-on-Wye last month to examine the state of the river, said: "This is the first time any major entity from within the poultry industry has admitted complicity in the pollution of the Wye."If Avara really is genuine regarding its intentions, and if the other major poultry producers are prepared to follow their lead, then we might have just witnessed the first ray of hope of how the pollution crisis of the Wye might be solved."River Action is now engaged directly with the major poultry producers, including Avara, and will be pressing hard for time and investment commitments to be announced as soon as possible."But if what we heard really is a genuine and deliverable commitment, then it will have our wholehearted support."If it is not, then we will be returning to the campaign trail against the poultry agri-businesses with vigour, as we will do if the county councils procrastinate over fast tracking planning permission to build these much-needed facilities."Avara said: "We take our responsibility very seriously and have been working on thorough risk assessments for the small number of farms we have in the region.The company says that the agricultural manure produced by them in the Wye catchment accounts for only about 10 per cent of the total 1.5 million-ton total.But campaigners say chicken manure is high in phosphates, and with up to 20 million birds currently being farmed at any one time in the Wye catchment, is a major cause of damage to the river’s eco-system.Until now, the Wye Nutrient Board, which includes representatives of Natural England, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, has come under fire as a "talking shop", but campaigners finally hope change could be on the horizon. Earlier this month four Wyeside Conservative MPs, including south Herefordshire and Forest of Dean members Jesse Norman and Mark Harper, wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke calling for a three-year integrated spending package in the forthcoming Spending Review specifically focused on cleaning up the Wye.