2016 – 022 Hillside Animal Sanctuary activists exposed as fraudulent.

Mail on Sunday photographs Pictures were published in the Mail on Sunday this morning of birds in my free range egg unit purporting to demonstrate a severe animal welfare problem. The pictures were taken by animal rights extremists involved with, or employed by, Hillside Animal Sanctuary who trespassed unseen onto my property on the night of 17th December 2015. The pictures, which appear to be cleverly choreographed by the activists, were sent to a journalist, who, on 20th January, sent them to the RSPCA. Within a few hours of receipt, the RSPCA arrived unannounced on my farm for an immediate audit and inspection. I was absent, but my staff were present. Our records, birds and farm premises were closely inspected. Our records demonstrated that the flock was under veterinary treatment for a feather loss problem that started the previous August with a condition known as enteritis. An expensive course of drugs was being administered at the time of the break in. Although I have not seen the report, the RSPCA found that we were treating our birds properly and no action was going to be taken against us. We were simply asked to reduce the temperature of the building from 18ºC to 17ºC and to mend a broken perch. On departure the inspector recommended that we refer any calls about the pictures to the RSPCA. In the days after 17th December we noted that our egg production dropped and bird mortality increased to the point that our vet was consulted. Our vet had been asked to examine both live and dead birds from our flock to determine what was happening. The conclusion was severe stress from an unknown cause. With subsequent knowledge of the time and date of the illegal trespass by Hillside’s activists, we now know the likely cause. The photos taken by Hillside show wilfully inconsiderate individuals rousing my hens in the dead of night. By wading through them, frightening them with torches, handling the birds and displacing them to pose them for photographs, these irresponsible individuals caused our birds to think that they were being attacked by predators. All this was done during a national Avian Influenza crisis where strict biosecurity protocols must be followed when entering poultry units, and at a time when these chickens were under strict medical control due to their treatment for an uncomfortable condition. Hillside Animal Sanctuary depend upon public donations to keep their business afloat. As a fund raising exercise, terrifying egg laying hens, under veterinary supervision, to the point where several die and many stop laying eggs has to be a questionable activity. Entering poultry units without permission when strict biosecurity measures are in place, particularly during an Avian Influenza outbreak, is grossly irresponsible and in certain circumstances illegal. Hillside keep a significant number of poultry that have been picked up from here, there and everywhere. Their activists have come from straight from a uncontrolled disease situation into my secure poultry house. The horrific consequences of the irresponsible publicity-seeking behavior of animal rights activists are well known in Norfolk following the suicide of Norfolk farmer Stephen Brown in 20121 . Animal welfare abuses should rightly be brought to account by the appropriate authorities, but respect for the rights of the individuals involved should not be forgotten. I will call for the law to be improved in this area to stop activists from irresponsibly breaching biosecurity precautions and undermining the right of the individual to due process. What is Hillside Animal Sanctuary? It is technically a limited company but referring to its website www.hillside.org.uk there is the impression given that it is a charity, with a prominent “donate” button and numerous pleas for monetary gifts. Two individuals involved with this organisation have criminal records relating to a breaking onto a farm. I paid a return visit to land adjacent to Hillside’s farm on Friday 11th March, which has prompted other questions. 1. Is the land there being kept in “Good Environmental and Agricultural Condition”? 1 http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/crime/east_harling_pig_farmer_stephen_brown_commi tted_suicide_1_1240824 This is a requirement of the Rural Payments Agency for those who claim agricultural subsidies. Hillside claimed €19,439 last year2 , which is roughly £14,579. Based on average Single Farm Payment values (£200 per hectare), this claim would represent approximately 74 hectares. . Only 1% of claimants are inspected each year, and I wonder if this one has been. 2 http://farmsubsidy.openspending.org/GB/recipient/GB1168355/hillside-animalsanctuary-ltd/ 2. Are the numbers of livestock kept at Hillside excessive? The farm is in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) where strict rules are applied by the Environment Agency about the quantity of nitrogen from animal manure delivered to each hectare. Hillside openly claim on their website that they keep 1300 horses, 300 cows, 600 sheep and 200 pigs 3 at their sanctuary. Based on standard nutrient values, this number of animals would require over 200 hectares of land on which to distribute their manure4 . There is clearly a discrepancy between what they claim on and what they need to keep that number of animals. One presumes they have other available land on which to dispose of their animal waste. 3 http://us2.campaignarchive1.com/?u=4c95cca2af7aa16d5d44b5a9e&id=3ed8a0da37&e=8ca6658791 4 https://www.gov.uk/guidance/nutrient-management-nitrate-vulnerable-zones 3. What is the meaning of “Sanctuary”? The short answer for Hillside appears to be the choice between a muck heap and a mud bath. The photo clearly shows what looks like unpleasant conditions for the animals themselves, being kept outdoors in awful winter weather and enclosed in mud sodden pens. These conditions could easily cause filthy water to cascade off saturated and poached ground into the gardens or fields of neighbours, and even into sensitive natural environments such as local rivers. Yet these people feel they have the right to enter my property to contrive their own animal welfare story. In publicising the above, I risk very unpleasant reprisals against my family and staff. On the other hand, I know that I have done nothing wrong and that these intruders injured my animals by willfully disturbing and handling them with scant regard for biosecurity. It really hurts that those who work for me, in such a truly dedicated way, could be tarnished by such an irresponsible publicity stunt. I have, therefore, contacted Norfolk Police who, far from brushing me off, have taken my concerns very seriously. Such as been the level of activist terrorism against Norfolk farmers that a named individual within the police has responsibility for this area. I have been advised on what to do should we experience trouble. Norfolk FarmWatch have also been very supportive. With my hens on Saturday 12th March 2016. The quiet before the storm. Stuart Agnew MEP

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