Complaints Process – Part II
From starting to fight the nuisance alone to before employing legal experts.
(1) Noise Diary
If you haven’t done so already, start a noise diary. It is a MUST. It’s tedious, it is frustrating, it is time consuming. But it will be your most powerful weapon.
Record the weather on the day (Fe: dry, sunny, gentle breeze from NW). Record time. Record the number of bangs. Record which gun it was (if you don’t know, record the direction it came from). Record how it interfered with your life (woke me up, interrupted conversation, send the dog mad).
An excel spreadsheet works well on laptop, smartphone users will find similar apps.
(2) Find the gun
If it’s just sitting in the field, shooting at you, all well and good. Take a photo (with GPS switched on!) and move on to (3). But it can be a devil to identify the wretched things: about 30% of Environmental Health Departments report incidences where they couldn’t act on a complaint because the gun or the owner couldn’t be found.
Tips to find a gasgun:
First, determine whether it is a gun at all, or whether it’s rope bangers or even illegal shooting meetings. Shotguns, rope bangers and gasguns create sound blasts that are virtually indistinguishable. The pattern will usually tell which one it is.
If you’re reasonably sure it’s a gun, take a compass (smartphone app will do, or buy a cheap compass) and go for a walk. Find an area where there are no buildings to deflect sound. Wait for the bang and identify the general direction. It often narrows down the position of the gun to within an angle of around 30 degrees.
Print a Google map of the area and draw that 30 degree angle on it, extending the limbs for at least 7 (SEVEN) kilometers. The gun is likely to be within that area.
Observe the loudness: if the explosions are much louder in the morning and evenings, but quieter during the day, the variations of the noise is most likely due to refraction and the gun will be a long way away. From experience, up to 3 times further than you think. Modern guns that are raised on stilts blast up to eight thousand hectares of land with noise.
Take the car (or the bike) to narrow down the area where the gun is situated. It is not always necessary to find the exact location: going around an expanse of fields and knowing that it is “somewhere in the middle”, might be enough to identify the “person responsible”.
(3) Find the person responsible
Note: it does not say “find the farmer”. It says “find the person responsible”. Important difference.
If you happen to know who the farmer is (or can ask neighbours or even a farm worker you see on the field), move on to 4.
If you don’t, find the landowner: much of the farmland across England is tenanted and the only people who know who works which field is the landowner. EPA 1990 Sect 82 (4c)- the law that applies to the scenario – states that if the person creating the nuisance cannot be found, proceedings can be brought against the owner of the premises.
To find the landowner, go to the land registry website (if you don’t use this link, make sure you go to the actual website of the land registry which appears as eservices.landregistry.gov.uk, in the address bar. Don’t fall for one of the many spoof sites that charge).
The link takes you to the map enquiry. Type in the postcode and then zoom in until the little radio button in the left bottom corner of the map turns blue. Toggle it to “find properties – on”, position the circle in the middle of the field and click “Search”. It will often give you the address of the landowner. Sometimes you have to pay £3 to get the title deeds.
If you are not sure where exactly the gun is, repeat the search multiple times across the area where you think the gun is: large swathes of land are often owned by the same person, so it doesn’t matter where the gun is exactly. It’s on their land. They are responsible.
If the land is unregistered, the land registry has some advice on how to track down an owner
Failing that, one option is to approach the Environmental Health Department or Police to disable the device and wait for the owner to come forward.
(4) Familiarise yourself with the NFU Code of Practice
You can find a copy on the webpage of the National Farmers Union site or we store a copy of the current version here. Make sure all pages are printed (the document layout is strange and not all PDF readers will print all pages).
Print it. Study it. Know it by heart. Contrary to what everyone tells you, it is a very useful document.
The chorus from everyone – Environmental Health Officers, farmers and even solicitors – is that they are only guidelines and therefore can’t be enforced. Strictly speaking, that is true, but that’s not quite the way it works: the law on statutory noise nuisance is extremely grey and in the absence of anything concrete that would determine what exactly constitutes “nuisance” and what doesn’t, the NFU Code is the “best practice document”.
If a farmer adheres to the conditions specified in the guidelines, courts are unlikely to find they are causing nuisance, no matter how noisy the gun is. But if they don’t, then a farmer’s legal position is much more precarious: noise is increasingly recognised as a serious health hazard and businesses are under a legal obligation to minimise it.
The assumption by farmers, Environmental Health Officers, Solicitors – in fact, anyone I’ve ever spoken to – is that adherence to the NFU Code means don’t shoot before or after sunrise. Not true. The NFU guidelines go much further than that.
Farmers are meant to:
· Use gasguns as a last resort, after trying non-auditory scaring means
· register guns with the local Environmental Health Department
· give you your their name & telephone number
· display name & telephone number of a responsible person at the nearest public access point
· baffle the guns
· point them away from residential properties
· take wind & weather conditions into account
· take habituation period of birds into account
· avoid shooting on Sundays
· co-ordinate with neighbouring farmers to avoid nuisance created by multiple guns in an area
A gun that adheres to those conditions is unlikely to be one that you’d be complaining about. This applies particularly to baffling guns properly: for an illustration of the dramatic effect sound barriers have on sound propagation, look at this sound propagation modeller
Whereas a court is likely to excuse failure to adhere to some of the conditions, a wholesale disregard will be much more difficult to defend.
Armed with that, you’re ready to write a suitably phrased letter to the landowner or farmer, threatening legal action. For a template of what you might wish to say, ask in discussion board.
If that doesn’t work, and you are serious about stopping the nuisance, go on to complaints process part III.