Environment Agency delivers blow to Nocton Dairies

THE Environment Agency has objected to Nocton Dairies’ plans for a 3,770-cow  ‘super dairy’ in Lincolnshire.

The agency’s stance comes as a blow to the developers as they had gone to great lengths to get the agency on board after it objected to their original proposal for a 8,100-cow dairy near the villages of Nocton and Dunston.

The company’s revised plans, submitted to North Kesteven District Council in December, included a number of amendments intended to provide reassurance on its main concern, the potential risk of groundwater pollution.

These included the use of ‘molecularly-welded polyethylene pipes guaranteed for 50 years’, rather than old irrigation pipes, to pipe effluent to nearby farmland and the use only of on-site lagoons, purpose built to minimise the risk of leakage, to store digestate and liquid effluent on-site.

But in its submission to the council’s consultation on the planning application, published on Monday, the Environment Agency states: “We object to this application as submitted because the proposed development would pose an unacceptable risk of pollution to groundwater.”

It explains that the site is located on the Lincolnshire Limestone which is classified as a ‘Principal Aquifer’, an ‘important source’ for the local area.

“The Lincolnshire Limestone is a highly fractured aquifer and lacks protective drift geology. This means pollutants could travel quickly to the groundwater below,” the agency says.

In a detailed 2,200-word statement, it says that in environmental terms, a dairy unit would not normally be considered ‘high-risk’. “However, we consider that in this location the production, handling and conveyance of large volumes of slurry and digestate (slurry following treatment by anaerobic digestion) immediately on top of an un-protected aquifer presents a significant risk to the water environment,” it says, adding that the 3,770 cows will produce more than 80,000 m3 of digestate each year.

The agency states that in 2009, the dairy industry was responsible for 324 pollution incidents in England, a quarter of all reported farming related incidents.

“We note that this development proposes a higher standard of engineering than is traditionally seen on smaller dairy farms. However, the statistics show that numerous incidents are caused by human error (for example a valve left open) or unforeseen circumstances (for example tank overflow following high rainfall),” it says.

“We agree the risk of groundwater pollution can be reduced at the design stage. However, it is reasonable to assume there will be pollution incidents associated with the day-to-day operation of the proposed dairy. We consider these risks are unacceptable at this location.”

It adds that Nocton Dairies’ Environmental Statement (ES) ‘lacks adequate information to demonstrate that the risks posed can be satisfactorily managed’.

A Nocton Dairies spokesperson said the developers would seek to ‘clarify’ the points raised by the agency. “We are aware of the Environment Agency’s response and are in the process of clarifying a number of points raised. This is a completely normal part of the planning process, of which we are still in the fairly early stages,” she said.

Readers' comments (34)

  • Recently the media has been full of reports considering the merits of the proposed ‘super-dairy’ at Nocton in Lincolnshire.

    Originally, this was proposed to house 8100 cows, producing 250,000 litres per day.

    Now reduced to 3,770 cows the plans still evoke very strong opinions and have sparked a large scale and coordinated campaign to prevent its construction.

    But is this level of opposition justified, or is such a large dairy really necessary?

    The Nocton proposal is controversial partly because of its size, although much larger systems exist in other countries.

    Perhaps more concern is shown to the original suggestion that the cows would be housed continually, prompting concerns over welfare issues.

    This method of zero-grazing dairy farming is not unusual and many in the industry would consider that it does not constitute a poor welfare method of production.

    Whether this development ever reaches fruition is yet to be decided, but the reality is that the advent of this scale of farming is actually not really in the hands of the farmers, nor the planning officers, or even the anti-Nocton campaigners, but over the long term the power is in the hands of the ordinary consumer.

    Every time you choose to buy one brand of milk over another you express an opinion in which way the future of the dairy industry lies. Many who oppose so-called super-dairies would like to see milk produced on smaller, often family run farms with cows grazing in the fields whenever possible.

    Unfortunately, this is a more expensive way to produce milk than the large scale ‘factory’ farm approach.

    Clearly, if consumers demand the cheapest possible product then the end result will be for milk to be produced on large scale units. It is not for me to second guess the priorities of British consumers and perhaps any perceived disadvantages of large scale dairies are a fair trade for cheap milk.

    However, if a smaller, more local model of farming is what the public desire then this will have to be demonstrated in choosing the local, more costly option from the shelf. There is of course a third option; as a nation we could both demand the cheapest possible products and that large scale super dairies are not built.

    In this case the future for British dairying is bleak, because other countries will have no such qualms over factory farming. Quite simply we will import our dairy products and export the production methods we decided we really did not like. So remember, next time you fill your trolley, you have more power than you realise.

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  • I'm not saying I agree with the Nocton proposal but it's an inevitability with the poor milk price and farmers leaving the industry at the moment. It's interesting that the EA object to a dairy farm sitting on porous rocks over an aquifer whereas there are countless sewerage treatment works in a similar position polluting groundwater and the EA does nothing to force them to clean up their act.

    If large scale dairies aren't given planning permission then it could lead to a shortage of supply as smaller farmers can't continue to supply milk at the current poor prices for much longer. I blame the supermarkets.

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  • I've moved to goats milk which is better for the health and doesn't cause the problems.

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  • Super dairys have to stopped coming to Britain

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  • I don't agree that the consumer is demanding lower prices for milk ... that doesn't hold good for the consumer demanding lower petrol prices so I think that line of reasoning is flawed....
    The supermarkets set the price in conjunction with the main wholesalers, and while they squabble amongst themselves poor Joe public has to pay whatever he/she is told to and the farmer/producer gets whatever they say he will. so it's all a big game in which faceless suits haggle with the livelihood and budget of the masses to satisfy some misguided corporate plan....

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  • Wouldn't it be nice if we just paid a fair price for our milk to traditional farmers?

    Crazy idea, I know.

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  • The British public do not want these large, inhumane, polluting American style factories in the UK and will oppose all similar plans in the same way. The opposition was overwhelming to this farm and I am very relieved that the dreadful plan has been turned down. I would happily pay more for milk and already only buy organic. I want nutrition from the milk I consume not chemicals and hormones.

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  • I always buy organic milk and would willingly pay more. I do not agree that the public set the price, sure it is a rumour started by supermarkets to try to fool everybody.
    No matter what 'they' say, somewhere along the line cruelty/neglect/suffering would be caused in a dairy farm of this size.Those that could/should prevent any neglect/sufferingt happening...pshaw they are less than useless!

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  • I live in the USA, trying to move home to England and am so disgusted at the way farming is done here. The animals are treated so inhumanely it is hard to believe. California, the biggest milk/dairy producer in the world has hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and you can drive for hours through beautiful rolling hills ... and never see a single cow. Mile long milking/cow sheds though, that stink. Stink so badly you have to have the car window closed. The animals are so abused and mistreated in a way that is hard to understand a human being capable of. I do so hope that Britain will never be blighted by these vile farms.
    There is not much that is good in any American industry nowadays and there is no need for Britain to copy anything.

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  • I cannot drink milk and I am sure this is do to the way it is 'processed'. I remember drinking beautiful creamy milk taken straight from the cow. It was digestible and satisfying. Food in it's most natural state is what we want and will pay for. The supermarkets need to understand this. Most people I know are buying direct from the farmer and paying a good price for it.

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