Category Archive: Environmental

Do you know where your drains are?

Or more specifically do you know where your septic tank is and what condition it is in? Asks Ben Lambert, Project Coordinator at George F White.

Being a predominantly rural region, many residential properties have their sewerage handled via septic tanks and soak-aways rather than being on mains drains.  However for many, especially those living in older properties the exact location and condition of their septic tank and the route of the drains and soak-aways leading to and from it may be a mystery.

Ben explains “many older septic tanks which are often brick built can have a number of problems which come about through their age and also lack of maintenance.  The worst case scenario can be caused by a blockage in the drains or soakaways which can cause raw sewerage to back up into the property itself.  This becomes a major issue if the location of the septic tank is unknown, as time is spent locating pipes or tanks, rather than dealing with the actual blockage”.

“Often septic tanks have a concrete slab covering over the main tank, which can be 12 foot in length, five foot wide and up to eight foot deep.  The concrete slab may have broken causing a potential health and safety issue for those that work on the land, this can be made worse by the slabs often being covered in overgrowth, and the hazard lying beneath.”

Ben, whose work often involves managing teams of contractors on jobs as diverse as wind turbine installation through to cottage refurbishment, house improvements as well as blocked drains, has seen many septic tank and drainage systems fail due to lack of maintenance.  This can then lead to costly repairs and renewals.  “Often with old salt glazed pipes, the inflow pipes become blocked up with fat which has been deposited down the drains, but another problems at the other end of the scale is where too many chemicals are used.  These can kill the bacteria working hard to break down the sewerage within the septic tank.”

Larger systems, perhaps those designed for a row of estate cottages, may fall foul (no pun intended) where maintenance obligations are now shared between a number of properties, with no one party taking overall responsibility.

DEFRA and the Environment Agency introduced new rules in January 2015 and have just released guidance for households and businesses with septic tanks and small sewerage treatment plants explaining how the rules simplify the way they are regulated in England, whilst protecting the environment and improving water quality.

The Environment Agency are requesting that households and businesses follow ‘general binding rules’, ensuring that septic tanks :

  • Don’t pollute surface water (eg rivers and lakes) or groundwater
  • Are maintained as instructed by the manufacturer – This includes having your septic tank regularly emptied (‘desludged’).
  • Are only used for domestic sewerage – this is typically waste from toilets, sinks and drains in a home or small business eg a nursing home, guest house or pub.

The Environment Agency also urge those selling their property to inform the buyer that the property has a septic tank and its location.

A permit will be required if your septic tank or treatment plant discharges more than 2,000 litres of effluent a day into the ground through a drainage field, eg an ‘infiltration system’ or it discharges more than 5,000 litres of effluent a day into surface water, eg a river, stream or estuary.  (You can’t usually get a permit for a new septic tank that discharges into water).

Ben mentions that “the Environment Agency will investigate septic tanks that are not working well.  Often soak aways are blocked or the pipes are broken and the problem arises on neighbouring property or straight into water courses.  By knowing where your sewerage system is, maintaining it and following the Environment Agency’s guidance you not only reduce the likelihood of blockages and repairs, yet should the worst happen, you are then able  to show the Environment Agency that you have followed their guidance.”

Ben concludes that “really what is under the ground needs as much or more attention to what you see above the ground.  Septic tanks should be cleared off of undergrowth and fenced off, rodding points should be kept clear and householders should understand their maintenance obligations and their rights of access to maintain their septic tank if it is located on another’s land.  The consequences are not pleasant, and as these systems become older and fall into disrepair I foresee much more time and money spent in replacing systems rather than just maintaining.”

If you would like to discuss the above our require advice please contact Ben Lambert – 01665 511982

A few thoughts from Rob Ord, Agronomist for MSP Agriculture

Harvest is upon us – despite the lack of sunshine winter barleys and rapes are turning hard.  With mixed reports over yields and quality from further south, the winter and late spring has produced some very uneven crops and with the lack of sunshine specific weights will be down on last year.  There’s still time for some of the wheats that look heavy and the later sown spring barleys look well too.

This year has been challenging for grass weed control; spray windows have been tight and condensed with some crops suffering in early spring. Now is a good opportunity to have a look at fields to see where the problems lie.  Aerial drone photos have been proving helpful when doing this.  Mapping the field with drone deploy applications and taking photos throughout the season with a NDVI infra-red camera has given a detailed overview of issues in each field.  Rotation and cultural controls are key to controlling these grass weeds in arable rotations and decisions need to be made or changed if problem grasses such as brome and black grass are getting dominant in the field.  Pre emerge sprays in the autumn, Kerb on WOSR, and follow ups in the spring on wheats will help with control but crop selection, tillage and spray timings will play a huge part.  We have seen an increased change into spring cropping in the south year on year to try and combat these weeds with more ploughing and break crops being introduced.  Good housekeeping at harvest time will also help such as blowing down sprayers, combines and balers to prevent spread of grass weeds from field to field and farm to farm.   After seeing a bit of BYDV about in some of the spring crops this year, seed treatment Redigo deter or insecticide spray on early established crops will be important in the back end.  Slug populations are high this year due to elevated winter temperatures so keep a close eye on vulnerable situations.

Organic matter and soil fertility is more and more important as margins are squeezed.  Mixed farming gives the best results and grass moved around the rotation when possible is important for both weed control and organic matter.  In arable situations and where grass is not an option, break crops and cover crops are being used for increasing organic matter.  Mixes of radish, vetches, mustard, clovers and other green crops aerate the soil, fix nitrogen and increase organic matter.  This results in increased overall microbial activity of the soil, benefiting crop production.

With values of cereals and pulses low, although slight worries over French harvest means we have seen a lift this week, there is a push to cut cost of production were possible.  Wheat variety choice is key to this when disease pressures are high and spray windows are few and far between.  KWS Lili has looked well all year along with Zulu, which I think will still be popular choices for the coming season.  KWS Siskin will also be popular, even in the north, with high yields and a potential for a premium.  Barrel is a new one this season, along with Basset, which both looked good in trials, performing well in the north and proving good wheats on light ground.  Choosing good resistant varieties that suit your farm will mean better control of disease and less pressure to get spay timings perfect if weather conditions hinder spraying.

This is a guest article written by Rob Ord of  MSP Agriculture –  email: robertord@mspagriculture.co.uk

New Equity Partner Joins George F. White

Land, property and business consultancy George F. White has appointed a new Equity Partner in a huge recruitment move for the firm.

Mike Young (FRICS FIQ) joins the firm with over 21 years’ experience as a Chartered Surveyor.  During his illustrious career, Mike has developed a specialist range of expertise through the management and development of private and public owned minerals & waste property estates.  This includes associated office, industrial, residential and agricultural property with regard to sustainable business plan objectives and maximising value. Mike’s specialist expertise includes contract negotiation, planning & environmental assessment, strategic site appraisal & evaluation, estate management and compulsory purchase & compensation.

Welcoming Mike to the business as an Equity Partner, Robyn Peat, Managing Partner at George F. White said: “We are thrilled to welcome Mike as a Partner in the business. It’s a great coup to recruit a man of Mike’s niche talent, leadership qualities and industry expertise. His experience, especially in the land and mineral resources field, will strengthen our delivery in this growing service area and enable us to expand our client base in this sector nationally.”

Mike was previously Head of Land & Mineral Resources at Hope Construction Materials where he led a successful development team who provided property, planning, engineering and geological advice throughout the UK.  Prior to this, Mike had a decade of working for Tarmac Limited.

Talking about his new role as a partner in the land, property and business consultancy, Mike said: “My new position is a dual role as Equity Partner and Head of Commercial Property. From a leadership perspective as a Partner, a key focus will be developing the regional strategy. As Head of Northumberland and Borders, I will be working closely with all business teams, to understand their view points and then ensure my leadership style compliments this. I strongly believe George F. White should be the first choice of property consultancy for both employees and clients alike. Our developing culture will deliver our business strategy and in my opinion, this is the best foundation for business growth.

As Head of Commercial Property, I will be focused on business related property including minerals, waste & recycling, industrial & manufacturing, office, retail and distribution & logistics.  I’m looking forward to working closely with our existing commercial property clients while developing new clients in this key area of growth. It’s a great time to join George F. White and I can’t wait to get involved.”

Nuffield Farming Scholarship 2016

Unbelievable diversity, vast opportunities and incredible people are what make global agriculture so interesting, but everywhere faces challenges. Travelling with 8 other international Nuffield Scholars from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the Netherlands, I have over the past 3 months been spanning the globe on a Nuffield Farming Scholarship agri-focus programme visiting the US, Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand and the UK.

As a group we looked at everything from cereals, beef, lamb and dairy through to coffee, tomato and citrus production, and debated the growing opportunities for global agriculture and explored how farmers, industry and government are all gearing up to tackle key challenges such as sustainability, succession and food security. Providing a brief flavour of my travels, I summarise a few key themes which were discussed with farming hosts along the way.

Scale and diversity in California is incredible. The state alone accounts for 65% of the total US non-citrus fruit and nut production, and 73% of the total US national value. With a Mediterranean climate and rich soil, California is the most productive almond, walnut and pistachio growing region in the world. Non planted bare land, with irrigation is actively being sought by large agri-investment companies paying up to US$30,000/acre (£21,300/acre) with an agenda to plant, grow and harvest nuts. Once planted and a third nut crop has been produced, land with walnut trees could be achieving anything in the region of US$45,000/acre (£32,000/acre).

The dairy and beef sectors are also huge. We visited a dairy farm managing over 11,000 head of Holsteins. The milking facility consisted of four 13 unit double-up herring bone parlours milking 3,500 head within seven hours. The whole dairy operation employed 65 employees.

On another visit, we went to a beef feedlot measuring one square mile with cattle held in outdoor pens with shade from the intense sun. On the day we visited, there were 85,000 head of cattle, with an expectation that as summer comes along and spring grass disappears, the unit will fill up to their full capacity of 125,000 head.

Water, or the lack of it, and labour are two key challenges that California faces going forward. The state relies heavily on snowpack each winter to resupply surface water stocks, and with this being at an all-time low, supplies from aquifers are pumped to make up the shortfall. Aquifers are rapidly depleting and without real investment in more efficient water technologies and infrastructure, California’s water uncertainty remains a huge problem. The agri-sector has a strong reliance on a manual workforce, predominately Mexicans. Legislation has recently been passed raising the minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour by 2020, after just increasing from $7. The implementation of more mechanised processes in order to keep overheads down was a key challenge that many farmers discussed with us.

Visiting Brazil, you cannot help but be amazed by the sheer speed on which the agri sector has developed. In 1993, Brazil’s share in world exports by volume was just 15% for soyabeans, 8% for sugar and 13% for poultry. Today these figures are 41%, 47% and 34% respectively. There is no doubt Brazil is well on her way to becoming an agricultural superpower, but there are big ticket items that need to be addressed, such as political stability, investment in road and rail infrastructure, and education, especially within the rural areas.

A highlight was visiting a 7,000 hectare arable farm in south Brazil growing soya and maize, with three crop rotations achieved per year. Working on a no-till system that had been in place for the last 15 years, our host prided himself on the organic matter content of his soils. One host commented that “Brazil is the land of the future, but always will be”. With ample rainfall, warm climate, good soils, innovative technologies and novel cropping rotations, Brazil has undoubted opportunities, but her challenge lies in tackling the big ticket items so that her agricultural potential can be truly realised.

Since the removal of subsidies in the mid-1980s New Zealand’s agricultural industry has had to adapt to market needs, which led to a difficult period during the nineties, before sheep and beef rose as the dominant sector. Numbers have been in decline over the last 12 years as dairy farming has boomed predominantly driven by Asian demand. The dairy industry now has a debt level reaching NZ$38 billion, we learned from Federated Farmers; the farmers national union, that almost 1 in 10 dairy holdings are under pressure from banks over their mortgages.
Attending discussion groups, I asked farmers what they believe the biggest challenge facing th industry is going forward. Succession topped the list, closely followed by getting new entrants into farming.

Share farming is a well-known model in the New Zealand dairy sector, but there are other structures emerging. On our travels we visited mixed units and arable holdings incorporating innovative equity based partnerships, all with a remit to encourage, motivate and embrace young talent, and not necessary family siblings. Farms are run like companies, with regular board meetings among shareholders. It was refreshing to see young farmers getting a chance to move up the ladder to farm ownership.

Throughout my travels, I asked several businesses, ‘what is the most important question a business should ask it’s self? No matter where you are in the world, the most successful and forward thinking organisations answered “happiness, when people in your business are happy, profit will follow”. The best quote which I picked up on my travels was “Culture will eat strategy for breakfast any day” and when you really think about it, it is so true. Incredible people are what really turn the wheels of global agriculture and what makes this industry so fascinating to be involved within.
As I continue my Nuffield farming scholarship over the next year, I will be specifically exploring the issues surrounding short-term land occupation and will be questioning whether our most valuable asset, the soils in which we rely upon to supply food is progressively coming under strain as businesses look for short-term gain in an era of increasing price volatility and uncertainty within the market.

If you would like to find out more about the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust, please visit www.nuffieldscholar.org

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