Wind farms

Could this woman halt the march of Britain's wind turbine monsters?

Byline: by Steve Bird

July 8, 2011

TAKING a deep breath and rising up on to her tip toes, Jane Davis bellows out a rhythmic noise: 'Whoomp, whoomp, whoooom!'.

Rocking gently backwards and forwards, the former nurse is imitating the sound of eight towering wind turbines that dominate the skyline outside her home in rural Lincolnshire.

For five years, the mother of two has complained that the sprawling wind farm built amid a patchwork of sugar beet, winter wheat and oilseed rape fields has generated an unbearable noise that is destroying the quality of her family's life.

on a good day, she says, the 320ft-high monsters sound like 'a busy motorway in the sky'. At its worst, the sound is like a helicopter hovering overhead or a relentless low-frequency pulse that penetrates deep inside her head.

However, to the wind farm's various developers -- including French-owned energy giant EDF -- Mrs Davis is fussing about nothing.

The farmer's wife's ordeal -- similar to that experienced by countless other families as increasing numbers of the giant structures pop up across the country -- began within months of the turbines being built half a mile from their remote 150-acre tenancy farm in Deeping St Nicholas in 2006.

Mrs Davis, 55, her husband, Julian, 46, and their daughter, Emily, 21, found the noise so intolerable that they were forced to move into rented accommodation in the nearby town of Spalding. Earlier this week, they launched a landmark battle in the High Court over their inability to get a peaceful night's sleep. They say they were kept awake even though they wore earplugs and had their double-glazed windows closed.

If their court fight is successful, it could mean that operators of up to 50 wind farms across the country have to stop their turbines or compensate hundreds of residents living near them.

Yesterday afternoon, there was only the gentlest of breezes and the swivelling heads of the turbines were facing away from the Davis's house. But amid the summer birdsong, a deep 'swishing' sound could be heard.

Mrs Davis says: 'It's far worse at night when the countryside quietens down. The sound has a rhythm that the brain unconsciously recognises. It overwhelms you. It's often faster than your heartbeat, which can make you feel anxious.' Her opposition to the turbines has put her on collision course with the green lobby and multi-national energy companies. 'Apparently I am a postmenopausal farmer's wife who has nothing better to do with her time than invent a noise that doesn't exist,' she says, with a broad grin.

'But the truth is I'm like an angry bear whose habitat has been destroyed and has no choice but to fight.' In 2002, a planning application was submitted to build the turbines neighbouring farmland. The Davises saw no reason to object and four years later the turbines were in place. 'We thought that there'd be occasional bouts of noise, but nothing that would stop us sleeping,' Mrs Davis said.

At first the family tried to live with their noisy new neighbour -- they fitted rooms with fans in the hope the whirr would mask the sound outside.

OFTEN, the couple took sleeping tablets or drank an extra glass of red wine to dull the senses in the hope of unbroken night's sleep.

'It's not just a question about the volume of noise but its character. You simply can't shut out the lower frequencies. At night, it resonated rhythmically through the floorboards like the drip-drip of water torture.' The couple were convinced the council would step into get the turbine owners to reduce the noise, which sometimes reaches 66 decibels. Letters were written, emails sent, phone calls made. The developers and their experts paid a visit. Yet they all said the problem was a figment of the Davises' imagination. Stunned and angry, the family resorted to spending nights on friends' sofas and at cheap hotels. 'It didn't matter if the hotel was near a motorway, airport or busy road. We'd always sleep soundly,' Mr Davis added. 'We just felt so angry that no one believed us. We felt helpless.' His wife compares the battle against the wind farm developers with her fight with breast cancer a few years earlier. 'When you have cancer, all the experts -- doctors, oncologists, nurses -- are rooting for you because they want to solve the problem. It was a battle, thankfully, that we won. But the fight to regain the peace and quiet of our home against these wretched turbines saw us up against a wall of denial.' At Christmas 2006, six months after the turbines were built, the family could take it no more. They cancelled their plans to build an extension on their home and moved into a house on a culde-sac five miles away in Spalding. 'I remember I had been sitting on my bed at the farmhouse crying when we made the decision,' Mrs Davis said.

But they were determined that their retreat was not an admission of defeat. They started to research everything about wind turbines: the effect that the seasons and temperature have on the noise and how buildings can amplify it.

Mr Davis discovered reports about 'amplitude modulation' -- the scientific term for the pulsating sound made by the blades. And Mrs Davis prepared spreadsheets setting out his findings. 'We were an ordinary family pitched against a multi-national company. It was all very daunting,' she said.

A BREAKTHROUGH came in 2007 when a noise monitoring device installed by the council in the farmhouse's front bedroom recorded a pulsating background noise. This proved the couple were not imagining things.

The following year, a council tax tribunal concluded that their home had suffered 'significant detrimental effect' from the 'nuisance caused by the wind farm'. The council reduced the property's tax band on the basis that its potential sale price had gone down.

Having compiled their case, the couple went to court, realising that they face ruin if they lose the case and have to pay the other side's legal costs. They have always maintained that the problem could have been resolved if the operators, Fenland Windfarms Ltd -- a subsidiary of EDF -- and Fenland Green Power Co-operative Ltd had limited hours of operation.

The Davises' lawyers are seeking an injunction to bring about such changes. If this doesn't happen, they want [pounds sterling]400,000 of damages to compensate for their extra housing costs.

At last, the operators have accepted their turbines make noise, but believe the Davises are over-reacting.

The Davises insist they are not 'antiwind farm' --- despite figures that show the army of wind turbines across Britain contributes just 2 per cent of electricity in the National Grid. Mrs Davis is diplomatic: 'We just think they should take into account the effect these turbines have on the people living nearby.' Back at their rented home, she leafs through legal papers from one of 26 files on her dining room table. Her husband says proudly that his wife, who has a master's degree in healthcare management, has done most of the work on the case. She has given speeches at three international conferences on wind farms and to 40 planning meetings.

Had the wind farm lobby and energy giants underestimated this courageous farmer's wife from the Fens? 'They made three mistakes,' she says. 'First, they put the turbines bang next to our farm. Second, they didn't listen to us or take us seriously when we said that there was a problem. And third, they behaved very badly towards us.

'We couldn't have lived with ourselves if we hadn't tried to stand up for what we think is right. It's not just about fighting for a principle -- we are also trying to get our home back. And, we don't want others to suffer like we have.' In the coming week the Davises will find out whether their battle with the power barons has paid off. If they win, not only will they have scored a major victory against the March of the Wind Turbines but they will also, at last, be able to return home.


Taking on the energy giants: Jane and Julian Davis