The residents of a tiny village in East Sussex are up in arms at a proposal by the UK’s first caviar farmer. If plans submitted to Lewes District Council are passed later this autumn, the man who brought caviar production to England will open a new fish farm in East Chiltington, just north of Lewes. Ken Benning, who launched Exmoor Caviar in 2010 after a career in importing fine foods, wants to build several large two-metre-deep ponds for five-foot-long Siberian sturgeon in a field he has purchased from his parents.
But residents of the hamlet, which has just 260 inhabitants, say it will scar the landscape, disrupt their peaceful community and drain water from sea trout spawning grounds.
Mr Benning now lives with his wife and five children in Battersea, south London, but grew up in the area.
He insists that the earthworks needed to create the ponds will last only six weeks and after that time there will be no visible or audible disruption to neighbours.
He said: “From the objection and protests you’d think I was trying to build Hinkley Point here.”
He insists the project will be a “beacon” for British farming which will benefit, not disrupt, the ecology of the area.
Protestors say that plans to drain 20,000 litres of water per day from natural resources will drain the water table so badly that native sea trout will no longer be able to use the winterbourne, which only runs strongly in the winter months, to spawn.
Mr Benning stresses that water will only be drawn in autumn months before the fish arrive.
Villagers are also concerned that the scale of the earthworks necessary to create the scheme will blight the peace and quiet and that farm traffic, and noise and light pollution, will endure after any construction has been completed.
Mr Benning insists that the farm buildings will be below the line of sight behind hedges, and that the most intrusive construction – an 11m wind turbine – will not be visible and not audible from any of the surrounding properties.
Janet Downes, a leading protestor whose house abuts land intended for the fish farm, said: “All the residents of Chiltington Lane, and many more local people nearby, are concerned about this application.
“We are very lucky to live and work in such a beautiful place. The proposed caviar farm could leave us with a permanent scar on the landscape in return for little or no economic benefit to the area. This is just the wrong place for this enterprise.”
They are backed by Lewes District Councillor Sarah Osborn.
She said: “‘I fully support the local residents in their fight against this blot on the landscape,
I share their concerns about the impact this development would have on the local environment and the detrimental effect on the quality of life of its immediate neighbours.”