A family has been left devastated by news that they could lose almost half their farm to a massive solar energy scheme.
Robert and Emma Sturdy are the third generation of their family to farm 280 acre Eden Farm near Old Malton, North Yorkshire. They have launched a campaign to save 130 acres—an area almost twelve times as large as Wembley Stadium—earmarked for the scheme.
Rob, 50, explained: “We’ve had no direct consultation with our landlord (Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation) about the impact on our livelihood—just a conversation with their agent and then a leaflet through the door at the same time as all our neighbours. It’s an incredibly stressful time. It feels like the rug has been pulled from under us.
“My grandad came to this farm in 1954 and then my late father John took over in 1971. I took over the tenancy in 2014 and my dad felt he could rest easy—that we had a formal Agricultural Holdings Act (AHA) tenancy agreement in place that allowed for the next generation after me to take over. It just feels like all the work we’ve put into improving the land and the habitat for wildlife counts for nothing.”
Emma, who is busy coordinating the campaign in-between looking after the couples’ two young children, explained that the farm will no longer be viable if nearly half its land is lost to solar panels. She said: “This proposal is wrong on many levels, not only because the land is already occupied, farmed, and looked after to a very high standard, but also because it produces food. Rob met all the criteria to take over this tenancy and has the right to farm here for his entire lifetime and one more generation.
“The land here is too good to cover with solar panels. It also provides habitat for everything from barn owls to deer and skylarks. There will be more suitable, low-grade, brownfield sites available, but this will of course be less financially rewarding for the developer!
“We are not against solar power, but the location, siting, and scale need robust scrutiny and must avoid taking good quality farmland out of production” said Robert.
“My dad had a saying about them not making any more farm land; meaning the country has to fiercely guard what it has left. He was very particular about leaving the bottoms wide for nesting birds. It breaks my heart to think what he would think of this application—and the very real possibility that there won’t be a farm left for his grandchildren.”
Importantly, Eden Farm recycle Malton’s green waste from Ryedale District Council—from the brown bin garden waste collections, turning it into compost and spreading it on the land to improve the soil’s structure and fertility, saving on landfill in turn.
“Fields like ours don’t just happen: there’s been three generations of blood, sweat, and tears gone into making them,” Robert said.
At the time of writing, the Sturdy family are gaining the support of the Town Council and hundreds of local residents.
Despite the lack of consultation, Harmony Energy is preparing the planning application to Ryedale District Council for 92,500 solar panels and expects it to be submitted this month.
The Sturdy family are grateful for all the support and once planning has gone in, would encourage the public to get involved. Regular updates and how to object will be posted on the Save Old Malton Countryside Facebook page and website (www.saveoldmaltoncountryside.com).