A large Herefordshire poultry firm says it has made strides in dealing with farm pollution in the river Wye catchment, but others must also step up to address the problem.

From last month, Avara Foods has stopped selling poultry manure from its farms to other farms in the river Wye catchment, but is instead exporting it, traceably, out of the area.

Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of manure from its farms is now being exported, at a rate of around 2,000 tonnes a week, the firm said.

And its own supplier farms which use their manure, or digestate arising from it, as fertiliser on their fields, will “begin audit processes under the new soil assurance standard that we are piloting”, Avara’s update said.

But if farms in the Wye catchment replace manure from Avara farms with fertiliser from other sources without proper assurance, “we anticipate our actions will have very little impact on the health of the river”, it said, adding that it already has evidence of this happening.

Meanwhile the 30 farms using the new standard for fertiliser application represent less than one per cent of the arable and fresh produce farms in the area.

“Unless similar action is taken elsewhere, the issue of excess nutrient in the catchment will not be materially affected,” Avara said.

The firm embarked on a “sustainable poultry roadmap” last January to address its role in the river pollution issue, and is also working on projects “to unlock more of the value within poultry manure”, it said.

Government agency Natural England downgraded the status of the river Wye to “unfavourable-declining” last May – a situation widely blamed on the recent proliferation of poultry farms in the area.

A court case is meanwhile under way in Cardiff brought by campaign group River Action over what it claims is the Environment Agency’s failure to enforce its own rules that would protect the river Wye from farm pollution.