Fly infestation ‘worst’ expert has ever seen

Pests invaded private homes near Plymtree, getting into fridges, food and water. Farmers convicted after EDDC brings landmark case.

The ‘worst’ fly infestation an expert has ever seen put two East Devon egg farmers in the dock - in a landmark case brought by East Devon District Council.

Herbert and James Persey caused an invasion of thousands of flies in villages near their farm at Plymtree.

They now face fines of up to �20,000 when they return to court for sentencing.

At a previous hearing, it was stated that six million common houseflies were found in manure piled up under two chicken sheds.

Neighbouring residents found their homes were swarming with the flies, which got into their kitchens, fridges, food and water.

Some residents found flies in their food and drink as they ate. Others complained that their carpets were alive with layers of flies.

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In a test case, which is being followed by local authorities around the country, the farmers denied the charges but were convicted of causing a statutory nuisance and failing to comply with an abatement notice.

The father and son defendants are now facing large fines for breaching the notice.

They were convicted after a trial at Exeter Magistrates’ Court last week.

Environmental Health Officer Janet Wallace said she first started investigating the problem in 2009.

She said the council had received complaints over many months from residents living near the free-range egg producing farm at Plymtree. The residents also said this had been going on for many years and they were badly affected almost every summer.

Ms Wallace told the court: “A very large number of common house flies were in their properties. The flies were affecting them in quite a significant way. Hundreds of thousands of flies were in their houses, in their kitchens, food and water and in their fridges.”

She pinpointed the source of the problem at the Perseys’ free-range egg farm at Fordmore – around 175 metres from where some of the affected residents live.

Ms Wallace said the flies bred in wet chicken manure which had built up over 13 months under the chicken sheds on the farm.

She told the court that manure should have been kept dry or removed but it had turned into a type of slurry – ideal breeding conditions for flies. She said that the Council had given the farm detailed advice and guidance on many occasions on how to resolve the problem but the farm had not taken it.

Prosecuting barrister Gavin Collett said there were 9,000 chickens in the sheds. He described how the birds rarely go outside and their manure drops through slatted floors.

Mr Collett said there was an estimated three million flies under each of the two sheds, so many that it appeared there was a ‘smoke, mist or fog’ of flies.

Pest expert Clive Boase said it was ‘the worst case’ he had ever seen in 34 years of doing his job.

Mr Collett said James Persey fundamentally ignored the problem, despite it being obvious he had a major infestation.

Magistrates said James Persey minimised the seriousness of the situation and concluded that both he and his father had breached the council’s abatement notice “without reasonable excuse”.

The Perseys will re-appear at the Exeter court for sentencing at a later date. The maximum fine is �20,000.

After the hearing, an EDDC spokesman said: “This is our first successful prosecution of a free-range egg producer in relation to nuisance caused by flies.

“Residents in the Plymtree parish have been affected by large numbers of house flies in their homes over many summers. EDDC Environmental Health officers have investigated this nuisance over a number of years and have given help and advice to farmers. Some have been willing and able to resolve the problems but in this case the farmers neglected to take the action required to avoid the nuisance.

“This is also a problem over the border in Mid Devon and elsewhere in the country. We liaise on such issues with colleagues in Mid Devon and the success of this case will strengthen the hand of local authorities to deal with irresponsible farmers.

“This is a landmark case for the council in that it sends out a message to communities in East Devon that are frequently affected by fly nuisance originating from free-range egg producers that Environmental Health officers are fighting their cause and will persist in their investigations until offending farmers take ownership of the problem.

“Farmers have a responsibility to ensure that their businesses do not cause a nuisance to the community. Many farmers do recognise this. Our job is to persuade those who are bad neighbours to clean up their act. This case sends out a warning to the small minority of irresponsible farmers that they must show consideration to the people who live near them or they could find themselves in court.”