Farmers asked to spread a little sweetness

Britain's countryside, replete with its pungent odours, faces moves to sanitise it. The Country Landowners' Association wants to sweeten the smell of rural air by encouraging farmers to curb muck-spreading .

The association says half the complaints it receives about the countryside concern "unpleasant" agricultural smells and it is urging farmers to take more care where they spread their slurry and refrain from muck-spreading on weekends, bank holidays or evenings.

Geoffrey Hopton, of the CLA, said: "About half the complaints from country- dwellers and tourists are about unpleasant smells from farming. These activities involve the field spreading of slurry and manure."

The CLA, which represents over 50,000 landowners who hold 60 per cent of rural land in England, would also like to see farmers take account of the weather forecasts before spreading.

"It would be difficult to turn the entire countryside into a smell-free zone," Mr Hopton said. "However, the code of practice provides very positive information about various ways of minimising smell and limiting the duration which smells might linger."

He denied that they wanted to "sanitise" farming, saying the organisation just wanted to see "common sense".

The author Jilly Cooper, who lives at Bisley, Gloucestershire, said: "I've never heard of anything so ridiculous. It's absolute madness. People from the city come to the countryside and pollute us with their car exhaust.

"I think they should be the last people to complain about the smell. What do they want to do - put animals in air-tight battery farms so they can avoid the smell?"

Charles Honey, of the National Farmers Union, also poo-pooed the notion, saying it was "ridiculous" to suggest getting rid of farming smells. "Most farmers try not to upset their neighbours, but farming is our livelihood. The pong in the countryside has been a joke for as long as farming has existed," he said.

"Most farmers plough in the muck almost as soon as they have spread it to reduce the smell. But if there is a pong real country people accept it as part of the country scene. You have to put up with the smells that go with the countryside and farming. "

He added: "Most of the complaints come from people who have moved from the city to the countryside to play at being landowners.

"Once they're here they realise that farming is an industry and reality and not some idyllic lifestyle. If people want fresh, healthy food than they had better get used to the smell."