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Opposition forming to Fridays' 192,000 chicken farm proposal for Chainhurst

There is growing concern at plans from egg-producer Fridays to create a new chicken farm in Chainhurst, near Marden.

Fridays - already one of the three largest egg producers in the country - hopes to create a new farm with three huge hen houses - each holding 64,000 chickens.

Adelle and Kevin Back at the site of the proposed chicken Farm in Chainhurst
Adelle and Kevin Back at the site of the proposed chicken Farm in Chainhurst

But neighbours say the chosen site is unsuitable for a number of reasons.

Firstly the land falls within the floodplain of the River Beult and there is concern that when there is flooding the chicken manure will be swept into the river, contaminating everything downstream.

The Beult is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Secondly the land includes an area of ancient woodland - which the borough council has a legal duty to preserve.

Concerns over traffic and the odour are also expected to be raised.

Anthony Drewe is deeply unhappy with the proposal
Anthony Drewe is deeply unhappy with the proposal

Residents have formed a group to fight the proposal called We Love Chainhurst, and a GoFundMe page has already raised more than £2,000 to engage planning experts to contest the scheme.

The group said: "Families living in our picture-postcard village are terrified that a plan to build a huge chicken farm with 192,000 birds will be ecologically disastrous and a threat to public health."

Fridays contest that, saying the risk of leaching into the Beult would be less than that posed by fertilisers already used in the land's current use for agriculture. The firm said its £8m investment would generate around 60 million eggs a year on the 237-acre site.

Anthony Drewe, who lives in the village and has a degree in ecology and zoology, said: "I eat eggs. I even eat Fridays eggs, but I also know how ecologically disastrous it could be to locate a free-range poultry farm so close to the Beult.

"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 algae blooms that can quickly remove oxygen from the river."

An existing Fridays chicken shed
An existing Fridays chicken shed

Mr Drewe said: "It’s not only rain that can wash the excrement into the river. When the river floods and the water level rises and inundates the surrounding fields, large quantities of excrement will enter the water course.

"The river then flows on to Yalding, one of the worst-hit areas for flooding in the country."

Fridays said it expected 90% of the droppings would be inside the sheds and would be swept away on conveyor belts straight into waiting trucks and taken off site.

Villagers have done their own calculations and reckon if only 10% of the chicken excrement were outside, with the average chicken expelling faeces between 12 to15 times a day, 10 % of the droppings from 192,000 birds would still amount to 768 tonnes a year. They colourfully equate that to a pile of excrement as big as four and a half double-decker buses.

Mr Drewe said: "That’s still a huge amount of manure being excreted on open farm land."

The site is prone to flooding
The site is prone to flooding

He said: "I know NIMBY-ism must be a huge annoyance to aspirant developers, but in an era when protection of the environment has never been more widely acknowledged, why would anyone think it is a good idea to build a poultry farm in a a flood zone?"

Another resident, Kevin Back, a typographer and father of four who has lived in the village for 23 years, said: "This application would absolutely decimate a beautiful area. I have walked those woods and footpaths since I moved here. It’s heartbreaking to think what they plan to build here."

His wife, Adele, said: "Not only are there significant public health and environmental issues with flooding, but the impact on traffic to and from the site will have a massive detrimental impact on the daily lives of every family in our community."

Fridays, which has its headquarters in Cranbrook, has not yet submitted a formal planning application to Maidstone council, but it is expected imminently.

The firm already employs nearly 300 people. It said the new farm - to be known as the Wealden Wood Free Range Farm - would be carbon-neutral.

Villagers fear chicken manure will be washed into the River Beult
Villagers fear chicken manure will be washed into the River Beult

The company said it would mitigate any damage to the landscape by planting 36,000 trees over a 20-hectare area to create a new woodland.

The family-owned company previously developed plans for a similar 64,000 hen facility at a site in Horsmonden, but the idea was dropped amid welfare concerns raised by the Tonbridge charity Animal Aid and opposition from locals.

The Chainhurst scheme would see several public rights of way re-directed to create a new public access route along the River Beult to the north of the farm.

Graham Fuller, production manager at Fridays, said: “Like our other nearby free range farms, we will operate to the highest standards of animal welfare and our approach has been praised by the highly respected organisation Compassion in World Farming."

Alongside the tree planting, the hen houses would be fitted with solar panels.

The proposal: 1) Hunton Road. 2) River Beult. 3) Vehicular access. 4) Hen house 1 and range area. 5) Existing woodland with 5m buffer. 6) Hen house 2 and free range area. 7) Hen house 3 and free range area. 8). Existing woodland with 5m buffer
The proposal: 1) Hunton Road. 2) River Beult. 3) Vehicular access. 4) Hen house 1 and range area. 5) Existing woodland with 5m buffer. 6) Hen house 2 and free range area. 7) Hen house 3 and free range area. 8). Existing woodland with 5m buffer

Some 90% of the manure produced by the hens would be removed twice a week to an anaerobic digestion facility at nearby Knoxbridge Farm, near Staplehurst, which would turn it into an odourless compost and bio-gas sufficient to power 200 homes. No manure would be spread on fields.

There would only be 18 truck movements a week, six to remove manure, six to bring feed and six to take away the eggs. Additionally around 10 staff would visit the site each day.

The company has two similar operations, at Combwell Farm near Lamberhurst, and at Tolehurst Farm near Staplehurst.

Construction at Chainhurst would take around 14 months.

Each poultry house would be 262m long by 31m wide by 8m high. The buildings would be timber-clad with green coloured roofs.

What the site might look like
What the site might look like

Mr Fuller said residents' fears about the remaining 10% of chicken manure that would not be taken off site were unfounded.

He said: “The remaining 10% will be scattered over the 237 acres of the site.

"At the moment most of this is arable farmland and fertilisers have long been used to boost crop yields.

"Even under a worst-case scenario we do not expect future levels of nitrates and phosphorous to exceed the current levels­."

The company had engaged the UK's largest agricultural and environmental consultancy, ADAS, to investigate the potential for harm and ADAS had concluded: "Over the whole site area, should the poultry unit development go ahead, there is predicted to be a 74kg net reduction in nitrate leaching (a 2% reduction from the baseline) per year, and a 4.6 kg net reduction in phosphorous losses (a 17% reduction from the baseline) per year.

A picture from Fridays
A picture from Fridays

ADAS said: "It is concluded that considering the results of this modelling study, the poultry development would lead to a net decrease in the phosphorus and nitrate leaching potential of the land, and hence would be unlikely to increase the nitrate and phosphorus levels within the River Beult SSSI."

Mr Fuller said: "To put the figures in context, when distributed across the farm, the amount of manure left on site will amount to around 15 grams per square metre per week, equivalent to around four teaspoons full.

"We are also well aware there is a block of ancient woodland within the overall boundaries of the farm and that it needs to be protected.

"For this reason, as the planning illustrations clearly show, it has been excluded from the areas where the chickens will be free to roam.

“The majority of the site is within the Environment Agency’s lowest risk category for flooding, including those areas where the hen houses are located.

"As the presence of a free range farm will not increase the chance of future floods, and as the land will have lower levels of nitrates and phosphorous than at present, there is absolutely no basis for claiming the proposals could be ‘environmentally disastrous’.”

You can visit the We Love Chainhurst Go Fund Me page here.

You can view Fridays' plans here.

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