As you will be aware Sustainable Food Knighton formed initially to oppose a local application to build an intensive poultry unit, but we quickly realised that the entire situation across Powys is dire and needs to change.
Background – the problem with chicken poo
There are now, at any one time, nearly 10 million chickens housed in sheds across Powys, producing tons of excrement, both faeces and urine, mixed with used bedding, feathers and remains of feed. With nowhere else to put it, this manure is spread on nearby fields. It contains nitrogen and phosphorus, useful in small quantities as fertiliser, but toxic in high concentrations. Legislation ensuring safe levels of nitrates and phosphates on the land is still unclear and insufficient.
The manure from one or two farms might have a mild impact, but the proliferation of IPUs and other intensive agricultural practices has been a disaster. Over 40% of UK soil is over-fertilised and agriculture now produces more phosphates and nitrates than sewage treatment works. Rain and flood waters carry phosphorus from the fields into rivers and lakes, causing eutrophication – the rivers literally suffocate. The phosphorus stimulates algal growth, which in turn reduces the oxygen in the rivers, eventually killing fish and other riverine species. It can take years for rivers to recover.
More and more disturbing reports are coming out about river pollution. The river Wye, formerly one of the cleanest rivers in Wales, is now clogged with green algae; anglers report fewer fish; walkers and all lovers of nature mourn the loss of biodiversity as fewer birds sing, insect numbers plummet, and plant species decrease.
Nitrogen on the other hand is particularly damaging to wild flowers, lichen and fungi. It is the one pollutant in Wales whose levels are still rising; 89% of sensitive Welsh wildlife habitats are suffering from excess nitrogen levels. They are out-competed by plants such as nettles and hemlock that thrive on nitrogen.
Nitrogen combines with hydrogen to form ammonia NH3, which travels long distances through the air, mixes with rain, and can contribute to the formation of fine particulates, a cause of concern for human health, especially in the light of the Covid-19 epidemic.Nitrogen combined with oxygen forms nitrous oxide, or N2O, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2, that also depletes the ozone layer.
IPUs contribute significantly to climate change; aside from the N2O emissions, hundreds of truck movements are needed for construction and maintenance of the farms, including transporting manure and dead animals, and chicken feed is based on soya, often imported from destroyed rain forest areas in the Amazon.
Here in Knighton there is already a 34,500 Free Range Broiler Unit, the Grove, less than 2 miles from the town centre, and another broiler unit and a free range egg unit nearby, either side of the border. Now Powys Council have given permission for a broiler unit of 110,000 chickens at Llanshay Farm on the edge of town, not far from the Grove and a proposed housing development which was also granted planning permission. Given what we now know about the pollutants from IPUs, this is a cause for grave concern.
The campaign so far and why we are taking legal action
For a year and a half SFK have opposed this application and IPU’s in general. We have lobbied different authorities, pointing out that IPUs fly in the face of Wales’s and Powys’s commitments to taking action on climate change and increasing biodiversity, while de-intensifying farming.
We have talked and written to town and county councillors, visited the Senedd to voice our concerns, asked the Welsh government to call in the application for scrutiny, run stalls and held a Covid-secure demonstration in town. We pointed out that IPU’s are not compatible with Welsh government environmental legislation including the Environment Wales Act 2016 and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2019, as well as the declaration of a Climate Emergency in April 2019.
Our efforts were in vain; the Welsh government refused to call in the application and in September 2020 it was finally approved without a full meeting of Powys Planning Committee, as in January 2020 Powys Council ruled that even applications as large as this, requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment, could be decided under ‘delegated powers’.
All this means that SFK has felt there is no other option but to apply for a Judicial Review of the council’s decision, as we cannot allow it to go unchallenged. A judicial review is a court proceeding in which an independent judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action taken by a public body; it is an important tool in a democracy that ensures accountability from authorities such as local councils.
SFK want to be clear that we are not out to persecute farmers trying to survive in difficult times. This is a case that will shine a spotlight on the inertia of local and government authorities who have allowed the proliferation to continue unchecked.
We want the council and our government to change course, take their responsibilities seriously, and fulfil their commitment to supporting farmers to produce food in ways that create meaningful employment and provide good local food at fair prices, without destroying the ecosystems on which we all depend.
Why we need funds
We have a brilliant team of lawyers who are giving much of their time for free, but we still need to raise some money for them, as well as enough to cover potential court costs if we lose. Our initial target is £5,000.
Hence our appeal – we need your help! If you want a world where everyone can eat well without destroying the planet in the process, where farmers and food producers are not driven to investing in costly and damaging intensive practices, but instead use methods that increase biodiversity and actively reduce globally warming emissions, please support us, contribute and share this page as widely as possible. In return you get our heartfelt thanks – with your help we can start to make a real difference!
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