by adamboyden on 8 April, 2022
Some 128 people have responded to our survey into the fly nuisance around Wessex Water’s Frome sewage treatment works over the last few weeks, after I and other councillors (Janine Nash and Damon Hooton) and local residents Lee & Michelle put leaflets and letters through hundreds of letterboxes in houses to the east, south and west of the treatment works in late February and early March. A summary of the results collected online and in hard copies delivered to the Freepost address, is below, relating to each question in the survey:
1. Do you sometimes experience large numbers of flies in and around your property? Some 94% (120 people) had experienced large numbers of flies in and around their property, only 8 had not.
2. How many flies do you experience at any one time? Residents experienced hundreds (38%), thousands (35%), millions (10%), a few (3%), or dozens (17%) of flies at any one time, or it varies (16%).
3. Roughly how many days has there been a fly problem in the last 12 months? Responses varied – for some it is every day, for others ‘mainly in warm or mild weather’, ‘all summer’ or ‘a few’.
4. Do you remember any specific dates it was a problem? Most people could not remember specific dates. Responses included spring, summer, autumn, and the recent mild winter including late February. Specific dates mentioned were May and June 2021, August Bank Holiday, Christmas and New Years Eve and Day 2022, early February, 15th, 17th-22nd and 27th February.
5. Is there any time of day when it is worse? People ticked multiple times so the proportions do not add up): So afternoons and evenings are generally worse.
6. How much of an impact does this have on your life and the use and enjoyment of your home?
I assume that a moderate, major or slight impact could all be defined as a nuisance, so 111 people, 86% of those responding, have reported what could be described as a nuisance.
7. How would you describe any fly problem and how it affects you?
This is where the value of this survey comes alive – people’s real descriptions of the problem in their own words. When describing the fly problem, many people complained of:
Some of the worst comments are:
8. Do you have any evidence of any problem? Most people did not have current evidence, but nearly a third did, mainly photographs.
9. Are you willing and able to collect any evidence if flies appear again in future?
71% said Yes, 11% No, and 18% Yes with help. Help and advice will need to be provided.
10. Have you complained to anyone about the problem before? (select all that apply): Over tow thirds of people had not complained about the problem before at all, to anyone. Perhaps this is because they did not know who to complain to. Most people who had, correctly complained to Wessex Water and Mendip District Council.
11. Have you had any other communication on this issue recently with:
90% of people had not had any other communication. This was largely before Wessex Water sent out a letter to residents in the affected areas.
12. Has this problem cost you financially, for example things you have had to purchase, or lost income?
Over a third of people responding had incurred costs, some substantial (£hundreds) and 51 comments described these, including:
There does not appear to be any current arrangement for Wessex Water customers to reclaim any of these costs. The potential for financial compensation for residents suffering nuisance and costs incurred needs to be investigated.
13. Would you be interested in joining a local residents’ Action Group to share experiences and information, meet other residents, local councillors, the Council/s and Wessex Water, to lobby for further action to improve the situation?
Half the people responding replied yes or maybe.
To the question of taking a lead role, 5 people said ‘maybe’, one said yes, one said they already are (in a group), and one would like to pass on all the research and work they have done to others as they have been exhausted by the situation. One said “Wessex Water say they are looking into it and nothing ever gets done”.
14. Please leave your contact details if you wish to hear back from us about the results of the survey.
Of the 128 respondents, 117 people left names and contact details. These are being replied to in person or by email. The location of responses and level of nuisance suffered by residents is being kept confidential due to the risk of blight.
Discussion and next steps
The survey results show that a large number of residents in an affected area to the east, south and west of Frome sewage treatment works have suffered nuisance from flies that Wessex Water admits breed in large numbers at the works. 93% of those responding said they experienced large numbers of flies (midges and gnats) in their home and garden, and 86% (111 people) responded the flies were having a moderate, major or severe impact on the use and enjoyment of their home. Residents have responded in their own words how the flies affect living in the area, and many responses are difficult to read. This indicates that residents have been suffering a major nuisance in the area. Previously only up to 16 residents are reported to have complained about flies to either Wessex Water or MDC in any year (see below), which is a small fraction of the number of people suffering the nuisance.
Also, while the numbers of people responding was good, many residents in the affected area did not respond, so further surveys and canvassing could be done to gain additional responses.
The results of the survey so far will be sent to everyone who responded, for their review and comment, and then on to Wessex Water, Mendip District Council’s Environmental Health and Housing teams, Frome Town Council and other local councillors, to inform discussions and further decisions by all parties to address the problem. In particular, this should inform decisions by WW and MDC on nuisance abatement measures, discussions at a post-trial meeting with Wessex Water in June or July 2022, and discussions between affected residents.
Residents who responded have been advised who to complain to or contact by the survey letter and also by Wessex Water’s letter to affected areas. Residents will also be asked to keep a ‘fly diary’ and take photo and video evidence on any bad fly days.
The survey reflects the situation at the time residents responded – mainly late February and early March. Further survey of residents could be undertaken again to find out if residents’ experiences have changed during the netting trial (March-June 2022), and to test the effectiveness of any further abatement measures.
Meetings with other residents and councillors had been held in previous years, most recently in May 2021 and in January 2022. I and councillors Janine Nash and Steve Tanner and local resident Lee attended a meeting with Wessex Water at the treatment works on 28th February. A draft note of the meeting has been sent to Wessex Water, and is available on request. We discussed the initial results coming out of the fly survey, and previous studies and commitments.
After the January meeting, Wessex Water had been persuaded by one resident (Joe’s) painstaking and detailed research to install netting over half of the trickle filter beds where the flies breed, to prevent large numbers of flies entering the beds to breed or leaving in large numbers, and to study the effect on fly numbers compared to un-netted beds. The then-current version of the site’s Fly Management Plan (v8) had ruled out the use of netting due to problems with blocking filters and risks to discharge consent compliance, but Joe’s work persuaded them to give it another try, and the Fly Management Plan would be updated and sent to MDC for approval. The Fly Management Plan is available on request.
We discussed how Mendip District Council’s Environmental Health team can serve an Abatement Notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 when a nuisance is being caused, to legally compel a company to take action to avoid nuisance, but have not yet done so in this case yet because they appear satisfied the company is already using best practices as set out in the Fly Management Plan. Despite this, the problem persists, hence the need for further action. Private action to abate a nuisance can also be taken by residents through the Magistrates Courts under section 82(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, but this needs good evidence of a problem (such as detailed complaints and testimonies from over 100 residents) to have any chance of success.
We asked how Wessex Water would communicate with residents, and they agreed to write to everyone in the affected area. I provided street names, and letters went out to residents in early March. Wessex agreed to keep us up to date on progress on site, provide further information, and to call a meeting to review the trial results after it ends in June, to which councillors and a (small number of) residents would be invited.
Since the meeting, Wessex have provided additional information requested, including a report of a review in 2019 into fly removal techniques (see below), the results of fly and larvae monitoring, and correspondence from the larvicide supplier. We also requested the ecological report, which Wessex Water said was recommending additional bat and bird boxes be erected on site, to encourage more predators of the flies to the site. A group of residents in Innox Hill (led by Jo) has also designed and erected a number of swift boxes on their properties, to encourage more birds to live here (although Wessex Water declined to sponsor these).
Some questions remain unanswered, including how residents could apply for compensation (for any costs incurred battling flies, and for nuisance suffered), and what more can be done if the netting is not effective. I hope it is, but if flies continue to be a nuisance, further action will be needed, and the survey results show that there could be enough people affected badly enough to be able to take legal action to abate the nuisance if required.
We will now need to communicate the survey results with residents, Wessex Water, MDC and FTC, discuss potential ways forward with local residents and gather people for the post-review meeting in June/July.
Fly Management Plan and Review of fly removal techniques:
Wessex Water acknowledge that large numbers of flies originate from the open trickle (percolating) filter beds at their Frome sewage treatment works at Welshmill. Their Frome Water Recycling Centre Fly Management Plan (May 2021, v8) set out their analysis of the problem, and their ‘good housekeeping’, and ‘best practice’ mitigation measures that are to be employed at the site: dosing with chemical larvicide, insectocutors, biological control, and insecticide spraying. It also recommends ways to reduce fly levels at customers’ properties, including closing windows and doors and fitting fly screens.
Wessex Water have also supplied the report they commissioned from Isle Utilities to review available techniques to prevent fly nuisance in sewage treatment works that use filter beds (Isle Utilities (2019) Fly removal techniques in filter beds to prevent fly nuisance complaints). The report concluded:
‘Isle conducted a comprehensive review of the existing and emerging techniques and solutions to fly
management within and outside of the water sector. This comprised the identification of solutions
from the Isle technology database and open source literature, a review of available research
projects, and interviews with relevant water utilities across the globe. Alternative techniques to those employed by Wessex Water were identified, but these were either not approved for use in the UK, were not available on the market here, or were not yet proven to be effective. The key finding from this review was that there are currently no viable alternatives to the methods used by Wessex Water to control flies in filter beds. It can thus be stated that Wessex Water are using the best available techniques.’
The report also noted that for alternative solutions to be employed, further research would be required into an alternative larvicide or with a university on a novel approach. However, the study did not look into the feasibility of alternative sewage treatment processes or relocation of the works, as ways of reducing fly nuisance, which were discussed briefly at the February meeting – and if the netting is not effective, these may need to be considered seriously.
Things you can do to help:
Until the results of the netting trial are known and discussed at the meeting, there are things residents can do:
1. Keep a record of any fly nuisance you experience at home, perhaps using the table below (provided by local resident Sally), and take photos and videos on any bad days. This is all useful evidence if it is needed at a later date.
2. Contact both Wessex Water on 0345 600 4 6000 and Mendip District Council on 0300 303 8588 (option 4, then 4 then 2) or email Environmental.Health@mendip.gov.uk if and when flies are bad in and around your home, so they know and can respond too.
3. Keep in touch and let us know how the flies are by emailing email@example.com.
4. Please let me know if you would like to attend the review meeting in June, and a residents’ meeting before that.
Example table to record fly nuisance:
|x/x/xx||Red||e.g. Swarm outside, cannot use garden. Flies in kitchen, in bedroom at night|
|x/x/xx||Amber||e.g. Slightly less bad but still lots of flies today.|
|x/x/xx||Green||e.g. Very few today – can open windows and enjoy garden at last.|
I hope this all helps,
Lib Dem Mendip District Councillor for Frome College ward, and Somerset County Council candidate for Frome North division
Published and promoted by Grahame Baker on behalf of Adam Boyden (Somerton & Frome Liberal Democrats), all at 5 Church Street, Yeovil BA20 1HB.
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