I salute you marie ! Statue’s trip to Wye raises issue of chicken pollution | rivers

IIt wasn’t the most elegant start to the day. The sculpture was transported to the Herefordshire shore on a sack truck borrowed from a builder before being bolted and tied to a makeshift catamaran constructed from two canoes.

But after that it was much more graceful and serene as the particular vessel was pushed into the current, and the craftsmanship and sculpture, Our Lady of the Waters and the Wye, began to meander downstream.

The idea for the project, devised by artist Philip Chatfield and Father Richard Williams, the parish priest of St Mary’s Church in the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, is to raise awareness of the plight of the Wye, one of the most beautiful rivers in the west of Britain but suffering from ‘heartbreaking’ amounts of pollution from industrial chicken factories along its banks.

“The river is horribly polluted,” Williams said. “It’s heartbreaking to see the condition he is in and how fish and other wildlife are affected. Philip is a mate and we were talking about it, trying to find a way to get some attention. We had the idea of ​​a sculpture of Mary, a symbol of purity, cleanliness and fertility, floating on the river.

The Wye flows through the so-called chicken capital of the UK, where around 20 million birds are reared in the river catchment.

Bird droppings are rich in phosphates and are spread over the land as fertilizer to encourage crop growth, but the land can no longer absorb the amount of manure spread along the Wye, and the runoff infests the river with what activists call algae blooms “pea soup”.

River plants are suffocated, oxygen is drawn from the water, and fish like brown trout suffer, as do kingfishers and other bird species.

The ship with the Brewardine Bridge in the background.
The ship with the Brewardine Bridge in the background. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/The Guardian

The journey began in Hay early Monday when locals carried the sculpture to the river and scattered rose petals there from the bridge. Chatfield and keen local canoeist Callum Bulmer paddled the boat – and pushed it through the shallowest parts.

A trumpeter and saxophonist played Bridge Over Troubled Water from a bridge as the catamaran passed, and monks from Belmont Abbey performed Gregorian chants in his honor on Monday night. During its week-long 75-mile journey to Monmouth via Hereford and Ross-on-Wye, the statue will be accompanied by riverside church bells, canoeists and wild swimmers.

“It’s a very British sort of adventure,” Chatfield said. On Tuesday morning he packed smoked salmon and beef sandwiches, a brolly and the life jacket he wore when he was a crew member of the Maria Asumpta, the sailing ship that sank off Cornwall in 1995. “But the message is important. It will appeal to people in different ways. Some may see it as something religious, others will focus on the environmental aspect. It was hand carved from Scandinavian redwood and we paddle by hand. I think there’s a lot of humanity in that. It can be a lot of things to a lot of people. If nothing else, it’s a beautiful statue floating down the river.

He then left a shingle beach in the village of Bredwardine, Herefordshire, in front of a curious crowd, including Angela Vevers, a retired teacher. “It makes me emotional to watch,” she said. It is very important to draw attention to what is happening to this river. We need to act when we can, not be afraid to speak up even if speaking up offends some people.

A detail of the redwood sculpture of Mary
A detail of the redwood carving. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/The Guardian

Lyndon Eatough-Smith, the trumpeter, said he was moved by the sight of the statue passing under the arches of Bredwardine Bridge. “She seemed to glow.” He lives near the Wye. “You notice when there’s a flood how dark and loamy it is.”

Naiya Goodwin, 13, added: “The river must be conserved. Future generations should be able to come here and swim like we did this summer.

Rachel Jenkins, a psychiatrist who organized the expedition route, grew up on the Wye and was horrified when she returned after some time away to see how polluted it had become. “I was shocked by the collapse of fish stocks and insect life,” she said.

“Governments and agencies don’t seem to be able to pull themselves together and hold farmers who dump waste into the river to account. It may be a crazy event, but it brings people together. And it makes people smile. »

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