A FARM is an eternal hive of activity. There is always something going on, work to be done, developments to be made, and improvements to be completed, writes Johanne Spittle, head of litigation at Pearsons & Ward Solicitors.

With such activities, some noise and disruption is inevitable. However, if your actions impact your neighbours to such an extent that it amounts to a nuisance, this could lead to untold legal headaches. Nuisance is unreasonable interference with another person’s use or enjoyment of land. Nuisance can be public, statutory, or private.

Public nuisance - Public nuisance can be a criminal offence and arises where a group of people are affected by your actions, for example if you obstruct the highway or pollute water supplies.

Statutory nuisance - Statutory nuisances are defined by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as something which is “prejudicial to health or a nuisance”.

This can include excessive noise, artificial light, dust, smoke, fumes, gases, accumulations or deposits, and badly kept animals.

This law allows you to be pursued for a statutory nuisance by the local authority, directly by the individual affected by your actions, or by the Environment Agency if your farm possesses an Environmental Permitting Regulations Permit.

If nuisance is found, you will usually be served with an abatement notice requiring you to stop the offending behaviour within a certain time – usually 21 days, or three days in the case of noise nuisance. If you fail to comply with the notice, you could face prosecution.

If you are accused of causing a nuisance, as long as your actions are not illegal and conform to safety requirements, you may be able to plead a defence of “best practicable means”.

Best practicable means can serve as a defence or as a ground for appeal against statutory nuisance actions relating to trade or business premises.

“Practicable” is defined by the Act as reasonably practicable in terms of local conditions, circumstances, the current state of technical knowledge, and financial implications; while “means” refers to the design, installation, maintenance and manner and periods of operation of plant and machinery, and the design, construction and maintenance of buildings and structures.

This defence does not negate the existence of a statutory nuisance, instead it recognises that the defendant should not be held liable for it since they have taken the “best practicable means” to either stop or mitigate the effects of the nuisance.

Private nuisance - Private nuisance affects an individual’s right to use or enjoy land that they occupy (they do not have to own the affected land). It could involve encroachment onto or damage to land or buildings, or excessive noise or smells. Such nuisance is only actionable if there is actual or potential damage, although this damage need not be physical.

Whether something amounts to a nuisance will depend on the duration and frequency of the interference, as well as your intention and whether you acted with malice. The location of the interference is also relevant; as Thesiger LJ declared in Sturges v Bridgman (1879): “What would be a nuisance in Belgrave Square, would not necessarily be so in Bermondsey.”

If you are found to be causing a private nuisance you could face a civil claim for compensation and an injunction.

How a solicitor can help - Before you embark on a new project on your farm, it is highly advisable to seek expert legal advice to ensure that your planned works can legally go ahead, without annoying your neighbours and potentially embroiling you in costly and time-consuming legal action.

For more information, contact

Johanne Spittle, head of litigation, on 01653 692247 or johanne.spittle@pearslaw.co.uk