Agricultural smells

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Please be aware that Farmers, especially those involved in food production are classed as key workers and can continue muck spreading during the current restrictions. The information contained on this web page is therefore still relevant.

We can only usually consider complaints where the odour is excessive and has persisted for a prolonged period of time after spreading has been completed (typically a week).

However, given the current circumstances in relation to COVID-19 we are now deploying our available resources onto key essential services, and therefore our response times may be longer than usual. 

Most of the complaints we receive about odour relate to the storing and spreading of bio-solids (sewage sludge), slurries (muck spreading) and animal manures, particularly chicken manure (also called chicken litter), which has a strong odour.

Muck spreading is recognised as standard agricultural practice, and as our borough is surrounded by a great deal of working farmland, such odours must be expected from time to time. Prevailing winds can carry these odours some distance across fields and into residential areas.

The spreading of pre-treated sewage sludge and the incorporation of manure into agricultural land is a perfectly lawful activity and considered the best environmental option for disposal of such wastes and is approved by the DEFRA code of practice.

What you can do

The Environment Agency (EA) is part of DEFRA and it is the EA, not the Council, who legislates the use of sewage sludge and bio-solids.  If you are unhappy with the use of these products or want to know more about the process then you need to raise your concerns with the EA.

You can also report offensive smells from farming practices to us. However, we will not usually consider complaints unless the odour is excessive and has persisted for a prolonged period of time after spreading has been completed (typically a week).

Why do farmers have to spread in summer?

Spreading can only be undertaken in fair weather. Working the soil in wet, cold or frozen ground is often unfeasible. The growing season dictates that most crops are harvested in summer and the incorporation of manures follows almost immediately. This is to replenish the soil ready for the following year.

Why are the smells from spreading sometimes so awful?

Some odours arise from the spreading of sewage sludge. Organic manure by its very nature can be odorous and odour is the main cause of complaints from members of the public.

Farmers must follow DEFRA guidance to ensure that the product is incorporated into the soil within 48 hours after spreading. However, circumstances such as the weather may mean this is not possible, which is why we're not always able to advise on the expected duration or intensity of odours.

Sewage sludge is produced from the treatment of waste and consists of two basis forms, raw primary sludge (basically faecal material) and secondary activated sludge (a living culture of organisms that help remove contaminants from wastewater before it is returned to rivers or the sea). The raw primary sludge is transformed into bio-solids using a number of complex treatments such as digestion, lime stabilisation, thickening, dewatering and drying.

The practice of stockpiling and then spreading of treated sewage sludge is controlled by the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989 which is regulated by the Environment Agency.

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