Agricultural smells

Farming is an important part of East Lothian's economy and shapes the countryside around our communities. Spreading of manure, slurry and modern alternatives is an acceptable part of farming practice, provided it is done with care and consideration.

Why spread on farmland?

There are a number of forms of waste, or waste products which are valuable fertilisers. It makes sense for these to be spread on land to help crops or grass for grazing grow. The alternative would be dispose of the material to landfill sites, which would be wasteful and difficult to manage safely for the environment.

Most materials spread to land (except chemical fertilisers) have some smell associated with them. Because our communities are surrounded by farmland, it is to be expected that we will smell what has been spread from time to time.

When does spreading take place?

Spreading should take place when conditions are right. Things which farmers and contractors should take into account are:

  • whether rain is expected. Spreading before heavy rain should not be carried out as the nutrients will be washed off the land into water courses, which can cause other environmental problems;
  • the direction of the wind. Spreading should not take place when the wind will; take the smell directly towards neighbouring communities;
  • the temperature. Very warm weather may make the odour stronger. At the same time, residents of local communities may have windows open for ventilation, increasing the effect of the odour in homes. Frost or snow on the ground will prevent nutrients getting into the soil;
  • what material has already been spread on the land and when. There are accepted limits as to how much fertiliser land can usefully accept; and
  • whether the land is firm enough to take tractors, trailers and other machinery. It can't be spread if the land is too soft following long term rain.

Spreading often takes place late winter before summer planting and late summer / early autumn following harvest. It can also happen at other times of the year when weather conditions are suitable.

Standards expected

Guidance on spreading and minimising odour nuisance is available in 2004 publication, Prevention of environmental pollution from agricultural activity.

What to do when there is a problem

There will always be some smell from agricultural spreading, so being able to smell what has been spread doesn't mean that the farmer should stop or that the farmer of contractor has done something wrong. If you believe that:

  • the farmer has done something wrong or unreasonable
  • the duration, strength or nature of the smell is unreasonable

Please contact Environmental Health with as much information about what you are smelling and where the smell is coming from (if known). Note that Environmental Health will only investigate agricultural odour complaints when the problem is serious and persistent.

If there is evidence of best practice not being followed with the result that the smell is unreasonably intrusive, Environmental Health may take formal action using statutory nuisance legislation.