East Sussex caviar farm plans cause ripples

Kenneth Benning has submitted plans to build a caviar farm in East Chiltington
Kenneth Benning has submitted plans to build a caviar farm in East Chiltington

A plan to build a caviar farm is causing ripples among residents of East Chiltington.

Kenneth Benning has lodged an application with Lewes District Council to create ponds to accommodate sturgeon on land South of Chiltington House.

Test ponds were dug in 2014. About 200 young Siberian sturgeon would be introduced to each pond and the fish would then be ‘milked’ for their eggs. The fish are not harmed and the caviar is processed using Cornish sea salt and sold via the wholesale market and to selected buyers.

The application is also for associated buildings with a supervisory dwelling to service the farm. Consent is sought initially for three years so the viability of the enterprise can be demonstrated.

Sussex born and bred Mr Benning already has a caviar farm on Exmoor. He said: “I really hope that you will see that this is a great project that I strongly feel will not harm any of the neighbours, quite the opposite.

“I certainly do not feel this will ‘eat up’ the landscape as some claim, again quite the opposite. There are extensive four to five metre high boundary hedges and large oaks, not to mention the soft planting plan that we hope to install once the planned earthworks have finished; including beehives, wild meadows and multiple fruit trees. Our key aim is to greatly increase the biodiversity, not the opposite.

"This farm’s core principle is to be 100 per cent sustainable, organic and grid-free; quite frankly it should be a flagship of modern aquacultural farming practices.”

Mr Benning faces intense opposition from the community and 10 letters of objection have already been received by Lewes District Council. Chris Haskell describes it as a ‘stupid proposal’ and says no-one would build a fish farm over a watercourse.

Diane Costall wrote saying she is "appalled at the potential harm to the countryside and the scheme will create noise, pollution and traffic problems."

Meanwhile Helen Elliott feels caviar is a luxury product and the scheme could pose environmental danger. She is also concerned about the stress caused to the fish being farmed.

Lindsey Bell asks where waste water will go and queries whether chemicals would get into the water supply. She said: “The lane cannot take any increase in traffic and it is used by walkers with dogs and children.”

Other objectors cite harm to the habitat of the great crested newts and barn owls which are already on the site.

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