An egg producer supplying Britain’s supermarkets has been accused of risking environmental havoc over plans to house 192,000 chickens by the banks of one of the country’s most precious rivers.
Residents in the Kent hamlet of Chainhurst say the £8million development takes in swathes of flood plain and threatens to pollute the River Beult.
They fear manure flowing into the water will fuel the growth of algae blooms, choking the river and destroying wildlife.
Reed Court Farm, the site of the proposed development, was once one of the county’s showpiece farms, with orchards, hops and livestock. It was sold to free-range egg producer Fridays for £3.3 million three years ago.
Anthony Drewe, 59, a British lyricist for West End and Broadway musicals, is among locals opposed to plans for three vast multi-tiered sheds and riverside ranges for the birds to roam in.
An egg producer supplying Britain’s supermarkets has been accused of risking environmental havoc over plans to house 192,000 chickens by the banks of one of the country’s most precious rivers. Residents in the Kent hamlet of Chainhurst say the £8m development takes in swathes of flood plain and threatens to pollute the River Beult
Residents fear manure flowing into the water will fuel the growth of algae blooms, choking the River Beult (file image) and destroying wildlife
‘This is a beautiful river and farm which is part of Kent’s heritage as the Garden of England,’ he said. ‘We should be protecting it, not risking ecological disaster. It’s crazy to be putting this development in a flood zone.’
Residents say the intensive poultry units – each containing 64,000 laying hens – will produce about 7,700 tons of manure a year.
They estimate ten per cent will be deposited outside and fear some will inevitably flow into the river.
Britons consume 13 billion eggs a year, almost 200 each. All the major supermarkets have committed to stop selling eggs from caged hens by 2025.
Fridays, based at Cranbrook, Kent, say the project will supply about 60 million free-range eggs a year.
The row over the 237-acre development is the latest salvo between the egg industry and conservationists who claim the nation’s appetite for free-range eggs is polluting the country’s rivers.
Proposals for the site also include rerouting public footpaths that cross the farm, upsetting walkers such as Kevin Back and his wife Adele.
Reed Court Farm, the site of the proposed development, was once one of the county’s showpiece farms, with orchards, hops and livestock. It was sold to free-range egg producer Fridays (file image) for £3.3m three years ago
‘It is a beautiful farm with ancient woodland which is full of wildlife,’ Mr Back said. ‘It’s going to be surrounded by 8ft fences and will look more like an open prison. It’s heartbreaking.’
The River Beult, a tributary of the River Medway, is classified as a a Site of Special Scientific Interest. In 2018 the Environment Agency warned that it was in poor ecological condition, with phosphate pollution and low oxygen levels.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of The Rivers Trust, an environmental charity, said: ‘We’ve had our heads in the sand over this.
‘We need tougher regulation and robust monitoring.’
Fridays, which submitted a planning application to Maidstone Borough Council last week, said there was no evidence that the development, called Wealden Woods Free Range, would worsen phosphate pollution in the river and that its proposals included planting 36,000 native trees to help protect the soil and reduce run-off from the land.
It added that most of the manure would be used off-site in an anaerobic digester plant for processing into gas for heating and power, while a replacement right of way will open up the banks of the River Beult to the public.
Fridays said there would be a buffer of at least eight metres between the river banks and the ranges and that two-thirds of the development was in the Environment Agency’s lowest-risk category for flooding.
A spokesman for the Environment Agency, which uses an environmental permit system to regulate large producers, said it was up to local councils to decide where new developments such as poultry units should be set.
The row comes after the Government ordered that millions of free-range hens and other birds must be kept indoors from December 14 to limit the spread of a virulent strain of avian flu across Britain.
The order, agreed by the chief vets of England, Scotland and Wales, is a legal requirement for birdkeepers to bring flocks indoors to keep them away from potentially infectious wild birds.
Eggs can continue to be marketed and labelled as ‘free range’ for 16 weeks after the birds have been brought indoors. If the crackdown continues beyond that date, the eggs must be downgraded to ‘barn produced’.