Complaints about agricultural odours
During the spring and in summer after harvesting, the council frequently receives complaints about agricultural odours in the district. Generally, the most common source of odour complaints relate to the storing and spreading of bio-solids (sewage sludge), animal manures and slurries (muck spreading). Prevailing winds can carry these odours some distance across fields and into residential areas. Muck spreading is recognised as standard agricultural practice, and as Milton Keynes is surrounded by a great deal of working farmland, such odour must be expected from time to time.
The general practice of incorporating manures and bio solids into agricultural land is a legitimate practice and is considered the best option for disposal. The spreading of pre-treated sewage sludge is a perfectly lawful activity and considered the Best Practicable Environmental Option for disposal of such wastes.
It is not always possible to advise as to the expected duration or anticipated intensity of odours, as this can be dependent upon weather conditions.
Why do farmers have to spread in summer?
A frequently asked question is "Why do farmers have to spread in the summer months. Why not in winter when people are less likely to have windows open or be relaxing in their gardens?" The answer is that spreading can only be undertaken in fair weather. Ploughing in wet, cold or frozen ground is not feasible. The growing season dictates that most crops are harvested in summer and ploughing in of manures follows almost immediately. This is to replenish the soil ready for the following year.
Why is it that sometimes the smells from spreading are so awful?
Most of the complaints we receive about odour from spreading relate to the spreading of chicken manure (also called chicken litter). This is the material arising from intensive poultry farming where thousands of birds are keep in large sheds.
If the spreader follows the best practice guidance in the Code of Good Agricultural Practice
this should minimise any smell nuisance. However, if the spreader does not follow the guidance, for example by spreading when the wind is blowing towards nearby houses, then the smells can be very offensive indeed.
The smell could be very greatly reduced if the chicken manure was pre-treated prior to spreading (e.g. by drying or by aerobic composting) but this is very rarely done in this country because it is claimed it costs too much.
Sometimes unacceptable odours are produced by the spreading of sewage sludge. In every case this is sludge which has been treated by the simple and rather crude method of 'liming'. Although this kills the vast majority of the pathogens in the sludge it may still leave a very highly odorous material. When spread, especially if the good practice guidance is not followed, this can cause very offensive smells. Again this most often occurs when the spreader does not take account of the wind direction.
What can the Council do about spreading which does not follow the guidance and causes unacceptable smells?
If the Council becomes aware of unacceptable odours produced by spreading agricultural materials in a manner which does not fully follow the Code of Good Agricultural Practice
then we will serve the spreader with an Abatement Notice if the council believes the smells are completely unacceptable and so represent a Statutory Nuisance as defined in Part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990
Recently the Council has served abatement notices on Bottlehouse Farm, Bow Brickhill Farm and Grange Farm in respect of spreading chicken manure and Thames Water for spreading of lime treated sewage sludge. In each case the Council considered that the good practice guidance was not being followed and that a Statutory Nuisance was caused by the resulting odour.
For more information contact The Environment Team
Out of office hours complaints can be made to The Regulatory Unit out-of-hours Service