I live in Chainhurst. I eat eggs. I even eat Friday’s eggs. I have a degree from Exeter University in Ecology and Zoology. I understand Friday’s desire to increase their egg production, but I also know how ecologically disastrous it could be to locate a free range farm in such close proximity to the River Beult.
The River Beult is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because it is one of the best remaining examples of this type of river in the country. In June 2018, the Environment Agency and Natural England issued a non-technical report on the River Beult.
According to the report, the River Beult is not currently meeting its SSSI required standards. This is because the river has been damaged by historic modifications, low dissolved oxygen levels and phosphate pollution. They have suggested a course of action for "improving the River Beult for People and Wildlife". They describe the Beult as "a vital natural resource for both people and wildlife. It is a source of fresh water for wildlife and agriculture, controls and stores flood waters, supports crop pollination and improves the wellbeing of the local community through interests such as fishing and walking. It is protected because it still supports some of the habitats, plants and animal species expected in this kind of river."
Chicken manure has a very high phosphate level and in a river that is very dangerous. It triggers water eutrophication, whereby the water becomes enriched with nutrients, triggering algal blooms that can quickly remove oxygen from the river.
In 2017, water authorities warned that an increase in the number of free-range poultry farms is contributing to an increase in river pollution. Large amounts of chicken excrement are often washed by rainwater into water courses, releasing nitrates, phosphates and other harmful chemicals.
Of course it is not only rain that can wash the excrement into the rivers. When a river floods, and the water level rises and inundates the surrounding fields, large quantities of excrement will enter the water course.
As residents of Chainhurst, we know only too well of the tendency for the Beult and Lesser Teise to burst their banks – we have seen the extent of flooding with our own eyes. The UK River Levels website shows the area covered by flood alerts and warnings for the River Beult and Lesser Teise. The proposed Wealden Wood Free Range Eggs Farm falls right in the centre of the flood warning area.
Keeping the chickens inside at night obviously means that the Wealden Farm conveyor belt system can successfully remove the excrement that accumulates within the sheds at night, but what about the excrement that falls on the land during the daytime? Have you ever tried telling a chicken where it can or cannot go to the toilet?
This is not just conjecture. A recent article in the Hereford Times warns that:
“The River Wye is facing an “ecological disaster” because of manure from chicken farms in Powys. The river has turned green because of a proliferation of algae. The algal blooms affect the quantity of oxygen in the water as well as preventing sunlight from reaching aquatic plants below the water line, thereby potentially harming fish, birds and invertebrates.”
In December 2016 a proposal to construct a 100,000-chicken farm near the river Clun in Shropshire was delayed by objections from Natural England. In June 2017, a similar proposal for a chicken farm near Craven Arms in Shropshire was turned down by a government inspector after conservationists warned that it could pollute the same river.
The Environment Agency is a non-departmental public body, sponsored by the United Kingdom government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with responsibilities relating to the protection and enhancement of the environment in England. They themselves summarise The River Beult as:
“…having the potential to be a beautiful environment for recreation and better support local agriculture and wildlife. In some places the river is home to nationally scarce insects including the hairy dragonfly and a species of water beetle, which enjoy slow flowing, well vegetated sections. In stretches where there is thick emergent vegetation you can find uncommon species like the white-legged damselfly and the ruddy darter dragonfly. This vegetation also provides cover for breeding birds, particularly the reed warbler and reed bunting. In quiet stretches, bare clay banks provide essential nesting sites for the numerous kingfishers that can be seen dashing along the channel hunting for fish. In the better oxygenated, free flowing sections of the river fish like chub, dace, pike, roach, rudd and tench are found.”
Why would anyone think it is a good idea, in an area we all know is prone to flooding, to risk polluting the river thereby ruining this unique ecosystem?
I have nothing against Fridays or their aspirations to expand production, but please do it in a more sensible and less environmentally sensitive location.