April 13, 2024

Norfolk villagers wage long campaign against ‘stinking’ farm

Villagers say the smells coming from a huge pig farm nearby are making their lives a misery.

Local residents complained of hazy clouds with a foul stench of ammonia rising above Cherry Tree Farm and then hanging over their homes.

They say they sometimes can’t sit in their gardens and claim their food often tastes like urine.

Eastern Daily Press: The Stow Bedon village signThe Stow Bedon village sign (Image: Newsquest)

Villagers say their health is being harmed, with some reporting throat irritations.

However, the farm insists it is operating in accordance with regulations and has been liaising closely with the Environment Agency and local council to respond to concerns.

It claims to have made a series of changes to try to minimize its impact.

And some villagers say matters are being exaggerated and that such smells should be expected in the countryside.

Eastern Daily Press: CherryTree Farm in Stow Bedon is at the center of a planning disputeCherryTree Farm in Stow Bedon is at the center of a planning dispute (Image: Owen Sennitt)

PIG PROBLEMS

Cherry Tree Farm, which is a few hundred meters from the nearest houses, is operated by food giant Cranswick.

It expanded significantly in 2019 after being granted permission to change its breeding stock from 600 sows and their piglets to 7,000 adult pigs.

The company insists it is operating within the parameters of its license and is committed to ensuring it remains a sustainable and modern farm, providing much-needed local food and providing employment.

But residents say odor problems have increased significantly in recent years.

The smell comes from ammonia, a pungent gas from manure and urine, which can be emitted at high levels on intensive livestock farms.

It does not remain in the environment for long as it reacts quickly to form ammonia compounds. However, it has a strong, acidic smell and can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. Eastern Daily Press: Ammonia can come from cattle manure and urineAmmonia can come from cattle manure and urine (Image: Matthew Usher)

Since 2021 – when the site came into operation – 380 complaints have also been made to the Environment Agency (EA) about the smell at the Cherry Farm.

EA began investigating and found 12 occasions where the farm had breached its license.

It also issued an enforcement notice requiring the operation to reduce ammonia emissions – which authorities said could “adversely affect” nearby habitats.

Eastern Daily Press: An aerial view of the farm's location in the villageAn aerial view of the farm’s location in the village (Image: Google)

The notice required the operator to conduct an investigation into the root cause of the odor issues.

In total, EA performed 40 odor assessments, 10 of which showed moderate to severe levels.

Eastern Daily Press: Breckland councilors Philip Cowen and Sarah SuggittBreckland councilors Philip Cowen and Sarah Suggitt (Image: Breckland Council)

PLANNING LINE

EA officers also discovered that the pig sheds on the site, which came into operation in June 2021, were not built within the conditions of the permit.

He issued a separate enforcement notice requiring the company to make changes to the website and the way it was operated.

This included extending chimneys and stopping the spread of manure and slurry into surrounding fields.

This led the farm to implement a retrospective planning application, setting the stage for a new confrontation with the village’s critics.

More than 70 letters of opposition have been lodged with the local council, Breckland, which is dealing with the matter.

There were also frequent meetings in the village involving Breckland councilors and officials, including cabinet members Phil Cowen and Sarah Suggitt.

Eastern Daily Press: Ann Cuthbert says she regularly sees a haze that she believes to be a cloud of pollution over the Cherry Tree Farm siteAnn Cuthbert says she regularly sees a haze that she believes to be a cloud of pollution over the Cherry Tree Farm site (Image: Ann Cuthbert)

ACTION ON SMELLS

Cranswick made changes to its buildings in an effort to solve the problems, including adding 70 metal chimneys for ventilation.

Their height was later increased by three meters after residents said the odor was still reaching nearby homes and excessive nitrogen readings were found in a nearby conservation area.

A company spokesperson said: “Following construction, the requirements for the operating license changed and, in dialogue with the EA and local authority, the changes were implemented.

“We continue to work closely with the EA who confirm that we operate within the agreed parameters of the license relating to the local environment.”

The company declined to comment on specific health concerns among residents, but said it was aware of complaints from local residents and was “working closely with the EA on this matter”.

An EA spokesperson said there has been a reduction in public complaints this year.

He added: “We issued an enforcement notice last year due to license breaches at the site in relation to odors and emissions.

“The operator has now made infrastructural and operational improvements to the site to further minimize odors outside the site.”

Eastern Daily Press: People cycling on roads around Stow BedonPeople cycling on the roads around Stow Bedon (Image: Newsquest)

THE FEDO PERSISTS

Despite this, local residents say the problems continue.

Ann Cuthbert, a lawyer who lives a short distance from the farm, is one of the worst affected and has regularly reported incidents to authorities over the past four years.

She described hazy cloud plumes emitted regularly from the farm and lingering around her home.

“We can smell ammonia and it causes eye and lung irritation. When pollution clouds are strong, food tastes like pig urine. Sometimes it can be so strong that it is difficult to breathe when walking near it. ”

Mrs Cuthbert worries about the effect this is having on her family’s health.

She said her daughter was even warned by her doctor against having children due to pollution risks and was prescribed an inhaler to use during pollution incidents.

Eastern Daily Press: Tessa Fitzgerald, who lives near the farm at Stow BedonTessa Fitzgerald, who lives near the farm in Stow Bedon (Image: Owen Sennitt)

‘PRISONERS IN THEIR OWN HOUSES’

Hannah Reed, chair of Stow Bedon and Breckles Parish Council, said the last few years had been like “banging your head against a wall”.

“We seem to have exhausted all avenues and there is nothing more we can do about it.

“At times it’s disgusting and makes you gag. It shouldn’t be affecting people’s health and their right to enjoy their home.”

Tessa Fitzgerald, who has lived in her Stow Bedon home for 22 years, added: “When there is a smell it is quite strong. .

“This isn’t just about Cherry Tree Farm – authorities need to consider the cumulative effect of farms and not treat them individually.

“It makes you want to throw up your hands because it feels like there’s nothing we can do.”

Another local resident, who did not want to be named, said he can sometimes feel like a “prisoner in his own home”.

‘NORMAL SMELLS OF THE COUNTRY’

However, on the eastern side of Mere Road, where the houses are further apart, villagers were less concerned.

Allen Reeves, 71, said he sometimes “smells a faint smell” but believes these are “normal country smells.”

Philip Childs, local parish councillor, added: “The smell is better than it used to be.”

Eastern Daily Press: Livestock farming found to cause harmful air pollutionLivestock Farming Found to Cause Harmful Air Pollution (Image: Ian Burt)

HEALTH CONCERNS

While the health effects of emissions from vehicles and industry are well known, the health harms from agriculture are perhaps not as well understood.

Recent research by scientists has shown that ammonia levels are four times higher in agricultural regions than in other areas of Europe.

Ammonia, especially when combined with industrial and automobile fumes, has been linked to higher mortality rates, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and low birth weight.

The Norfolk area is an important center for the UK pig industry and in recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of licenses for ‘mega-farms’ – sites with capacity for at least 40,000 poultry indoors or outdoors. free range, 700 breeding pigs or 2,500 indoor production pigs.

There is a growing backlash against farms of this scale, and plans to build a huge chicken and pig farm in Methwold have provoked significant opposition among locals and even the CEO of Quorn, which has a factory nearby.

Lizzie Wilson, executive director of the National Pig Association, believes the strict rules that pig farms like Cherry Tree Farm must follow ensure that emissions are kept to a minimum.

She said: “Environmentally permitted pig farms such as Cherry Tree Farm are subject to much more stringent regulations and monitoring requirements to minimize emissions and nuisance, as well as being legally compliant with restrictions on dirt and slurry to ensure that any impact on water quality must be strictly controlled. .”

Eastern Daily Press: St. Margaret's Church in nearby BrecklesSt Margaret’s Church in nearby Breckles (Image: Newsquest)

‘A HOLY PLACE’

The rural village of Stow Bedon lies between the market towns of Attleborough and Watton and has long been a prosperous farming community and was well established before the Norman period.

Its name means “sacred place” in Old English and the parish has several churches including St Margarets in the nearby village of Great Breckles, known for its round Saxon tower.

It later attracted wealthy individuals who built two great halls – Breckles Hall and Stow Bedon Hall – built between 1500 and 1600.

In the Second World War a decoy airfield was built to confuse incoming German bombers, situated behind Cherry Tree Farm.

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