Farming smells

During the spring and in summer after harvesting, we frequently receive complaints about agricultural odours in the district.

Where does the smell come from?

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 the district is surrounded by a great deal of working farmland, such odour must be expected from time to time.

Most of the complaints we receive about odour from spreading relate to the spreading of chicken manure (also called chicken litter) which can have a strong odour. Sometimes strong odours are produced by the spreading of sewage sludge. In every case this is sludge which has been treated through a method called liming. Although this kills the vast majority of the pathogens in the sludge it may still leave an odorous material.

Further information

Please contact the Environment Agency on 03708 506 506 or email for more information on how much can be spread.

Is it lawful?

The spreading of pre-treated sewage sludge is a perfectly lawful activity however spreading should always be undertaken in accordance with the best practice guidance given in the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Code of Good Agricultural Practice, sub-section 5.4.

What can be done about farming smells?

Have a chat

There will always be some smell from agricultural spreading, so being able to smell what has been spread doesn't mean that the farmer should stop or that the farmer of contractor has done something wrong.

However, If you believe that the farmer has done something wrong or unreasonable and the duration, strength or nature of the smell is unreasonable, where possible it should first be discussed with the landowner.

If this does not succeed and the odour persists for at least 48 hours after spreading has been completed, contact our Environmental Protection team (details here) and we will consider your complaint.

What happens next?

If there is evidence of best practice not being followed with the result that the smell is unreasonably intrusive, we may take formal action using statutory nuisance legislation.

However, formal action will generally only be taken where informal intervention would not succeed or where there have been repeated incidents of failing to follow best practice.

It is also important to understand that taking formal action against the farmer or contractor will not make the smell go away immediately.