The Clay Pigeon Shoot

Case Study

Overworked city folk sometimes like to unwind by shooting clay pigeons.  A Northumberland hill farmer set up on his land a clay shooting ground. This developed into a significant business and soon became an important source of income for his family which had farmed the land going back many generations.

In 2003, the local authority began investigating complaints about noise caused by the shooting.  The Council served an abatement notice under section 80 Environmental Protection Act 1990.  Correspondence followed service of the notice, but no steps were taken by the council to enforce it.  As a result, the farmer asked the council to withdraw the notice and threatened a judicial review if they refused.

In April 2005, the council served a second abatement notice after withdrawing the first notice.  By this stage the farmer and local authority officers were not on good terms and attempts by officers to negotiate a form of notice acceptable to the farmer proved unsuccessful.  As a result, the local authority served a simple abatement notice. The notice identified the statutory nuisance as “noise arising from clay target shooting being emitted such as to cause a nuisance to residents in the Dozawhile area”.  The farmer was ordered to “abate the nuisance” within a month and “ensure that noise emitted from the shooting ground does not contribute towards a statutory nuisance caused by shooting noise in the Dozawhile area”.  This form of wording and approach to drafting of the notice had been approved by the council’s own noise consultant.

The farmer took advice from his own consultant.  As a result, subsonic cartridges having a lower noise impact were introduced and the times when shooting activities were taking place were restricted slightly. The farmer’s consultant proposed that a noise monitoring exercise be carried out and took the view that a benchmark shooting noise level of  LAmax 55 dB should form the boundary for nuisance.

But the main concern of the farmer at this stage was for the council to withdraw the second abatement notice.  The conclusion of the council’s own noise consultant after inspecting the site and perusing case records was that a nuisance generally did not result from the clay shooting activity, but that it did at certain times.  This consultant then concluded that as a nuisance was reasonably likely to recur, the Council should retain the notice and not substitute one drafted in a more specific form.  The consultant accepted the officers’ argument that withdrawal of the notice would probably result in an increase in future shooting activity sufficient to cause a statutory nuisance, even though there was no evidence of this happening.


This was clearly a complicated case and made more so in that the boundary for a statutory nuisance occurring or recurring was not clear at any stage.  The local authority had a very difficult balancing task: being fair to the farmer whilst protecting residents from an unreasonable interference in their personal comfort. The reasons for the local authority serving the first notice were not well made out; they responded to a vocal and articulate body of residents.  Service of the first notice followed some time later by a vague second abatement notice alienated the person served with the notice. A better solution than service of a second simple abatement notice would have been to explore whether an agreed form of notice specifying the types of cartridges to be used and limiting the hours and times of the activity could be agreed by the parties.  Such an agreement might well have recognised that the farmer was prepared to use “best practicable means” to mitigate the noise problem.  As both parties employed their own noise experts this approach ought to have been tried.  It wasn’t and as a result many thousands of pounds were spent in appeals against the simple abatement notice in the magistrates’ court and in High Court.   At present, no abatement notice is in force.

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