Close-up of free-range hen© Food and Drink/Rex/Shutterstock

Concerns about the impact of poultry emissions on ancient woodland in the Scottish Borders has led to the launch of a campaign by a leading charity.

The Woodland Trust is urging its supporters to write to East Lothian Council to reject the proposed free-range unit at Begbie Wood, near Haddington, on the grounds that it will affect 16ha of ancient woodland.

See also: Three-year planning battle ends in approval for broiler sheds

The application by Hamilton Farming Enterprises for a 32,000-hen house (140m long, 20m wide and 5.5m high) and 16ha ranging area.

Sally-Ann Smurthwaite, Woodland Trust campaigner, said that although the trust supported farms using trees, it could not condone poultry units close to ancient woodland.

“Thousands of chickens wandering around this woodland will create everlasting damage to the delicate soils.

“However, it will be irreversible impacts of ammonia on the site that will make up the bulk of the damage,” she said.

The trust claims an increased concentration of ammonia in the woodland would change the chemical structure of the soil.

Scratching at the soil for grubs by the hens will also cause further disturbance.

It has asked East Lothian Council to request that Hamilton Farming Enterprises carry out an ecological or environmental impact assessment.

Poultry World contacted Hamilton Farming Enterprises on 21 October, but no one was available for comment.

Potential damage to woodland

The Woodland Trust has highlighted the potential damage to ancient woodland in its recent publication The role of trees in free-range poultry farming.

This highlights that:

  • 90% of ammonia emitted in the UK arises from agriculture, mainly from the breakdown of uric acid from poultry and excreted urea from farm livestock
  • Concentration of ammonia are highest close to the poultry units, with emissions associated with odour and dust
  • When ammonia gas is released into the atmosphere, it is deposited in rainfall on the land that causes a fertilising effect that damages sensate habitat, such as ancient woodland
  • Increased nitrogen levels on the land also lead to eutrophication of watercourses and acidification of land and water
  • Buffering with wide tree belts can reduce ammonia in emissions by about 67%