Smouldering straw bale holding site near Hiams Farm in Mepal is causing a real stink

Straw Holding site at Greys farm Horseley Fen. Mepal. Straw burning. Picture: Steve Williams.)

Straw Holding site at Greys farm Horseley Fen. Mepal. Straw burning. Picture: Steve Williams.) - Credit: Archant

An “apocalyptic wasteland” is how Perce Baxter describes the straw bale holding site that’s piling higher and higher, just two fields away from the bungalow he and his wife Ruby have lived in for 18 years.

Straw burning holding site at Blockmoor Drove, ,Mepal.

Straw burning holding site at Blockmoor Drove, ,Mepal. - Credit: Archant

The straw is needed for Elean Power Station at Sutton but Mr Baxter and his wife feel they are trapped in a renewable energy nightmare that is destroying their lives.

The site at Blockmoor Drove, Mepal is littered with mountains of ash and plastic - some of the ash coming from regular fires which has been dealt with by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue.

Since August fire crews have dealt with three separate incidents at the site but these are by no means the only occasions the emergency services have been called.

Mr Baxter said that having put up with three straw bale fires at the site near his home in the last two months is wearing both him and his wife down.

Straw burning holding site at Blockmoor Drove, ,Mepal.

Straw burning holding site at Blockmoor Drove, ,Mepal. - Credit: Archant

He said: “The first fire started on August 29 and is still smouldering, the second – which began three weeks ago – will go on for months and months, and the third caught fire on November 1,” he added.

The fires are causing major problems for the retired couple, who live at Hiams Farm on Chatteris Road.

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“No one seems to want to do anything about it,” he said.

“We got up one morning and the bathroom stunk of smoke,” Mrs Baxter added. “We had to cover up the extractor for fear that the whole bungalow would fill up with smoke.

Straw burning holding site at Blockmoor Drove, ,Mepal.

Straw burning holding site at Blockmoor Drove, ,Mepal. - Credit: Archant

“I’m not able to hang washing out and when we open the windows the house completely stinks of smoke.”

The site is owned by the Lees family who then lease it to Elean (EPR Ely Limited).

EPR is owned by MEIF Renewable Energy UK PLC, a renewable energy generator which specialises in converting straw and miscanthus into electricity.

The company’s manifesto reads: “We were the first straw-fuelled power station in the UK and have been generating green energy since 2000.

“We have excellent availability and provide an invaluable service to local wheat growers. Our combustion ash is sold as fertiliser to the British agricultural industry making this a truly sustainable business model.”

It continues: “We have strong environmental awareness with a continued focus on improving our green credentials.”

Elean Power Station is a £60million plant located at Sutton near Ely. It was the UK’s first and the world’s largest straw fired power station.

The power station was built between 1998 and 2000 and there are 50 people employed on site. The plant uses 200,000 tonnes of straw each year and generates enough electricity each year to meet the needs of 80,000 homes, or two towns the size of Cambridge.

However, Mr Baxter said that he doesn’t know what they are going to do when the wind changes.

“I warned the company back in July about how bad it would be,” he said. “But when I phoned up the company, they just said: ‘We own the land it has got nothing to do with you. We can do what we want with it’.”

Justin Long, EPR Ely’s straw operations manager, said: “EPR Ely Ltd maintains a security presence at the Mepal straw holding site in order to protect its assets.

“Despite these regular patrols we have been victim of three fires recently.

“We take such incidents very seriously and are liaising closely with the fire service and other relevant authorities with a view to establishing the cause and preventing any reoccurrence.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused to local residents.”

East Cambridgeshire District Council has visited the site, along with the Cambridgeshire Fire service, to offer their advice on how EPR Ely could prevent further fires.

A council spokesman said: “We were contacted by Mr and Mrs Baxter regarding the recent incidents which had occurred at the site near Hiams Farm near Mepal.

“To help, we met EPR Ely with Cambridgeshire Fire Service to offer advice and guidance to reduce the risk of a potential incident.

“We are aware that the company has taken steps to reduce the risks; however we understand the concerns of Mr and Mrs Baxter.

“If the smoke becomes an issue for the couple, we will investigate the situation further”, he added.

A fire service spokesman said: “Crews have attended incidents involving straw at a site off Blockmoor Drove, in Mepal.

“The first incident we were called to was at 6.24pm on August 29, 2015, and three fire engines attended along with a water carrier. Firefighters contained and brought a fire involving straw under control, and scaled back its operation after two hours.

“There was a fire service presence on the site until 11am the next morning, at which point it was handed back to the land owners for them to facilitate a controlled burning of the material. It is believed the cause of the fire was accidental.

“We have since been called on two further occasions – one on October 11 at 3.07pm and another on November 1 at 10.46am – to straw fires at the same site; however, on both occasions no firefighting action was required.

“Stack fires, regardless of how they have started, can take days, weeks and even sometimes months to completely burn and be fully extinguished, and as a result can take up a considerable amount of emergency service time. This is why, as soon as it is safe to do so and there is no risk of the fire spreading to property, we will withdraw our resources and hand the incident over to be managed by the land owner.

“The fire service works with farmers and land owners to ensure they take precautions to avoid fires involving straw and hay. Some of this advice includes removing straw from fields as soon as possible after harvesting, storing stacks separately and away from buildings, and regularly record the temperature of stacks.”

Lorna Dupre, district councillor for Sutton-in-the-Isle, said she knew nothing about the burning straw.

“No one has raised it with me. I just know that the Elean Power Station in Ely is there.”

•Have you been affected by straw bale fires recently? If so, get in touch with us by emailing or by calling 01354 661921.