East Northamptonshire Council frequently receives complaints about agricultural odours affecting areas of the district. Generally, the most common source of odour complaint relate to the spreading of bio-solids (sewage sludge), solid animal manures (such as chicken or cattle manure) and semi-liquid slurries. These materials are used to fertilise the land at seasonal times throughout the year. Prevailing winds can carry these odours some distance across fields and into residential areas, and it is difficult to identify the source of the odour.
Spreading of all these waste materials is recognised as standard agricultural practice and is perfectly lawful. Although the odour can be strong and unpleasant, it poses no risk to human health. As we are surrounded by working farmland, even in our towns, such odour must be expected from time to time. It is not always possible to advise on the expected duration or anticipated intensity of odours, as this can be dependent upon weather conditions. Hot, dry, still weather will intensify the odour and prevent it dispersing as quickly as on a colder, wet or windy day.
We do not investigate odour complaints relating to any of these activities unless the smell is persistent and lasts for a significant period of time. Farmers are encouraged to use DEFRA's 'Codes of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Water, Air and Soil' to minimise odour when spreading. If we do investigate an odour, we would require the farmer to follow this code of practice, and only take enforcement action if they were not.
Apart from the smell itself, some residents are concerned about the lawful use of sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is the semi-solid material left over from the sewage treatment process. It is a readily available and a sustainable resource which contains valuable nutrients and trace elements essential to plants and animals. The spreading of sewage sludge onto agricultural land is a legitimate practice and is considered the best option for disposal. It is a perfectly lawful activity. It is recognised as a sustainable agricultural practice as it reduces the use of chemical fertilisers. Without recycling in this way, these wastewater by-products would need to be disposed of in much less sustainable ways, for example by being sent to landfill.
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