Smells and odours
Odours and unpleasant smells
Wiltshire Council has the duty to take reasonable steps to investigate complaints about odour causing a statutory nuisance. A statutory odour nuisance is defined in the Environmental Protection Act as 'any smell arising on industrial, trade or business premises and being prejudicial to health or a nuisance'.
The legislation does not enable us to investigate smells from domestic premises.
We can take action about an odour or unpleasant smell where we can prove a Statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
A statutory nuisance is something which is so offensive and so prolonged that it significantly interferes with the enjoyment of an affected property. The chemicals which give rise to smell are normally at exceedingly low levels and sensitivity to smell varies very considerably between individuals. Judgement of whether or not a smell constitutes a statutory nuisance can, therefore, take time especially if the occurrence of the smell is unpredictable and only apparent for short periods of time.
We can only take action from a business or commercial premises and not a domestic property.
Most of the complaints we receive about odour relate to the storing and spreading of bio-solids (sewage sludge), slurries (muck spreading) and animal manures, particularly chicken manure (also called chicken litter), which has a strong odour.
Muck spreading is recognised as standard agricultural practice, and as Wiltshire has a great deal of working farmland, such odours must be expected from time to time. Prevailing winds can also carry these odours some distance across fields and into residential areas.
The storage and spreading of pre-treated sewage sludge, and the incorporation of manure into agricultural land is approved by the DEFRA code of practice and is a perfectly lawful activity and considered the best environmental option for disposal of such wastes.
Why are the smells from spreading sometimes so awful?
Sewage sludge is produced from the treatment of waste and consists of two basis forms, raw primary sludge (basically faecal material) and secondary activated sludge (a living culture of organisms that help remove contaminants from wastewater before it is returned to rivers or the sea). The raw primary sludge is transformed into bio-solids using a number of complex treatments such as digestion, lime stabilisation, thickening, dewatering and drying. Organic manure by its very nature can be odorous and odour is the main cause of complaints from members of the public.
The resultant odour is highly dependent upon the time taken between the application of the biosolids on the land, and their incorporation into the soil. The prevailing weather conditions may also impact on the odour severity and duration it is perceived for.
Farmers must follow DEFRA guidance to ensure that the product is incorporated into the soil within 48 hours after spreading. However, circumstances such as weather conditions may mean this is not possible, which is why we're not always able to advise on the expected duration or intensity of odours.
The practice of stockpiling and then spreading of treated sewage sludge is controlled by the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989 which is regulated by the Environment Agency.
Why do farmers have to spread in summer?
Spreading activities may take place at any time of the year but tend to be more common in the spring and late summer/ early autumn to coincide with the agricultural calendar. As you will appreciate, the timescale available to fertilisation/ conditioning the soil is limited as it needs to be completed between the previous crop being harvested and in time for crops to be sown for the next growing season.
What you can do?
The Environment Agency (EA) is part of DEFRA and it is the EA, not the Council, who legislates the use of sewage sludge and bio-solids. If you are unhappy with the use of these products, or want to know more about the process you should contact the EA on 03708 506 506 or email email@example.com.
You can also report offensive farming odours to us by following our procedure for dealing with odour nuisances. However, in commercial operations such as these, the council must have due regard to the relevant DEFRA guidance and Codes of Practice. Please note that we would not usually consider complaints under statutory nuisance unless the odour:
- is excessive
- has persisted for a prolonged period of time after spreading has been completed (typically a week)
- the source is identifiable.
- You are being affected in your home - we cannot take any action in relation to odours perceived on public land such as footpaths/ bridleways etc.
The council recognises that there may be circumstances where a household is subject to repeated odours, either simultaneously or consecutively from several different locations over a number of days. We can only hold each landowner responsible for activities on their land and cannot take into account the cumulative impact of other spreading activities carried out on land not within their ownership.
If you wish to complain to the council about a smell you will need to download and complete odour monitoring sheets and return them to us.
We do not take anonymous complaints, you will need to complete thein full with your contact details and the location of the premises or land which is emitting the odour.
We can only investigate odour complaints from commercial or business premises.
We cannot investigate smells or odours from a domestic property.
Depending on the circumstances, you may wish to speak to the person or business responsible for the smell. They may not realise that they are causing a problem and the issue may be resolved quickly this way.
If you wish to complain to the council about a commercial or industrial smell you will need to download and complete odour monitoring sheets and return them to us.
We do not take anonymous complaints; you will need to complete the monitoring sheets in full with your contact details and the location of the premises or land which is emitting the odour.
We do not have the resources to look for the location of the odour so unless you can provide details of where the odour is coming from we will be unable to investigate.
If your smell is about "muck spreading" on farmland then its unlikely that we are unable to take any action as this type of odour is likely to only last for a day or so. If you experience an farm odour which lasts for more than a few days then we may be able to investigate it but will need a location of the fields that are being treated,
When we received your log sheets, your complaint will be logged and reviewed by the Officer for the area. The officer will use this information to try and establish if there is any pattern to the problem. Odour complaints can be difficult to substantiate as they are affected by weather conditions and the type of odour. We may therefore ask you to continue to monitor after your complaint is logged.
We may make visits in an attempt to witness the smell. Officers will usually undertake a maximum of three visits to substantiate your complaint.
If after the three visits no nuisance has been established, the council will close the investigation.
If you have a disability which may impact on how we contact you please let us know.
Having considered all the evidence, the investigation will result in one of the following courses of action:
- No further action if no nuisance is substantiated
- Informal advice. If you live close to a sewage works, farmland on which slurry is spread or refuse tip or certain other smelly activities you may be able to smell those activities from time to time. All the council can do in those circumstances is require the operator to do what they reasonably can to minimise those smells.
- Service of formal statutory notice to abate the nuisance requiring the organisation responsible to take remedial action
If an abatement notice is served and not complied with legal action may be taken through the Courts. Enforcement will be carried out in accordance with.
Download odour monitoring log sheets
Nuisance - How to take your own legal action
If the local authority is unable to substantiate a statutory nuisance you are able to take your own action against the person/organisation responsible.
Information about out to do this can be found on the How to take your own legal action page.