MoD’s £1million payouts as low-flying jets turn chickens cannibals and make cows stampede


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More than 500 chickens dead in a crush after a chopper flew close to rooftop-height, 100 cows stampeding after a dairy farm was buzzed by a helicopter and a £500 vets bills for an injured horse are just some of the claims made by farmers to the RAF

An RAF Panavia Tornado GR4 jet flying low in Wales
An RAF Panavia Tornado GR4 jet flying low in Wales

Farmers have been handed more than £1m compensation from the Ministry of Defence for chaos caused by low-flying aircraft.

Animals have died and crops wrecked because RAF jets and helicopters flew just a few hundred feet above their properties.

In one horror a farmer reported more than 500 chickens perished in a crush when a chopper flew close to rooftop-height over his farm.

More than 30 members of the public have also been compensated after claiming injuries caused by low flying jets.

Some 240 farmers have won payouts in the last five years. The total bill tops £1.3m.

An RAF Tornado Gr4 low flying
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Image:

Alamy Stock Photo)

A Freedom Of Information request shows that problems have been caused by more than 17 different types of RAF aircraft from Chinook helicopters to Typhoon fighter jets practising bombing runs.

Poultry farmers have also claimed that the stress to birds caused by low flying aircraft can turn chickens into cannibals.

Over 600 chickens belonging to farmer Stephen Ware, from Weobley, in Herefordshire, were killed in September by a Chinook helicopter.

The farmer was awarded £3,600 but the compensation did not cover disposal of the animals,

He said: “I first became aware of the problem at about 9.30pm when my farm manager called to say there had been a helicopter flying very low over the buildings in the dark.”

When he entered the chicken sheds the farmer found 500 dead birds in one and another 100 in another. All had been smothered to death in the panic.

He said: “We had to pick up and dispose of the deads, but also treat the rest of the flock with multivitamins and electrolyte in the water to get them back on track.”

Stress can turn chickens into cannibals
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Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Mr Ware added: “I accept that we all have a job to do and that low flying is something we have to live with. But late-night sorties at low altitude in a built-up area concerns me even more than the loss to my business.”

Hundreds more claims have been rejected, including one by Karen Dunn who said her horse was injured when a helicopter flew over her home in Ticehurst, East Sussex, in 2017.

She said: “The vets bill for the wound was around £500 and although I have insurance I didn’t want to lose my no claims bonus or face an increase in the premium. My claim was rejected because although the MoD accepted that an aircraft had been in the area there was no proof that it had caused my horse to panic.I appealed but that was rejected. I sought legal advice but was told that if I lost a court case I would be liable for the MoD’s legal costs so it just wasn’t worth it.”

Cows will stampede in response to a perceived threat
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Image:

Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Poultry experts say chickens are particularly prone to the impact of low flying aircraft, with some animals turning to cannibalism.

Mark Williams, the chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council said: “Hens have an innate fear of overhead predators – a survival mechanism from thousands of years of evolution, which causes them to seek cover from larger birds circling in the sky.

“Low-flying military aircraft can elicit a similar reaction. If hens are subjected to prolonged periods where overhead objects are nearby, it can cause considerable stress that can impact the health of the bird.”

In another case over 100 cows stampeded when a dairy farm belonging to Phil Nash, of Partridge Green, in West Sussex was buzzed by an RAF helicopter.

He said: “There was definitely a drop in milk yield – we were about 600 litres down from our usual 7,500 litres the next day – but the real concern is for our high-yielders.

“Some had only recently gone back into calf. They are pedigree cows, so there is a lot at stake.”

Low flying manoeuvres, in which military planes travel at 250ft above ground – 100ft for helicopters – are used to train pilots for various roles but not near towns with populations of over 10,000.

Crops are damaged by the down wash caused by the helicopter’s blades – in some cases this downwash can be the equivalent of a 60mph wind.

An MOD spokesman said: “We keep aircraft training to the minimum levels needed to achieve and maintain operational effectiveness. The issue of safe flying is taken extremely seriously and we try to limit disturbance, but unfortunately there are no uninhabited areas of the UK large enough to cater for our essential training needs.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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