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The Bristol Cable

Infestation in Avonmouth: Return of the flies…

Avonmouth residents are blaming the local waste plant after their homes were infested with flies, again… but the council says there’s no problem.


Avonmouth residents are blaming a local waste plant after their homes were infested with flies, again… but the council says there’s only “low numbers”.

Avonmouth residents say they are watching with horror as another fly infestation begins to manifest for the second time in weeks – and are furious that the council, the port and local businesses have said that there’s no problem.

“They’re just constantly batting you on the face, and getting in your ears,” said resident Ian Robinson, observing the increase of newly hatched flies in the last week. “It is disgusting, absolutely horrible.”

Last month, the swarms reached as far as Filton, Severn Beach and Lawrence Weston. Shirehampton resident Karen Van Hoey Smith described having to cover food preparation and kitchen bins with clingfilm to prevent swarms of flies in her home, and having to constantly swat away the pests while feeding her children.

Photos and videos shared on social media showed people unable to keep flies off their food preparations and fly catchers covered in the bugs.

Photo posted to Facebook last month.

It is widely assumed that the source of the flies are waste processing operations in Avonmouth docks, and particularly operations processing refuse derived fuel (RDF).

However, responding to the Cable, the council said during monitoring in the last two weeks it had “observed low numbers and no spikes in concentration”.

“Fly numbers do increase naturally in warm weather, regardless of the source they are attracted to and it is very difficult to pinpoint one cause,” It continued.

Locals say it’s only a matter of time before the flies return en masse.

The council further said it was “working closely with the Environment Agency and the local community in response to complaints about fly numbers in the Avonmouth area”, including making visits to the site and “discussing the problems” with local businesses, Darren Jones MP and local councillors.

Robinson said the council’s response is typical of the way that pest and pollution issues are dealt with in the area. Avonmouth docks have been earmarked in regional and local economic strategy as a site where waste processing industries are encouraged.

“They’ve been caught with their pants down, and now they’re trying to bury it, as if it never happened. Again,” he said.

Photo posted to Facebook 11.6.18

The latest episode has left residents of the area furious at the lack of action. “I think people round here are still not being properly represented,” said Van Hoey Smith. “They feel there’s no transparency and they’re being lied to, and there’s just a loss of confidence.”

Lessons learned?

In 2014, waste company Boomeco was found to be responsible for an Avonmouth fly infestation that became so serious the then-MP Charlotte Leslie raised the issue in parliament, citing “procedural failures” and “sluggish responses” from all agencies involved to tackle the problem. David Cameron conceded that the residents had “suffered unacceptably”. The company was fined £14,000 the following year.


The council asks any concerned residents report environmental problems either by calling  0117 922 2500 or reporting via the website:

The flies on stage…. Stepping Out theatre takes on Avonmouth pollution

“It’s good that you’re getting an arts project that isn’t in Clifton, isn’t yoghurt knitted in Sweden or something, you know,” laughs Avonmouth resident and pollution campaigner, Ian Robinson, describing a Stepping Out theatre production based on issues faced by locals to Avonmouth who are affected by the area’s industry.

“It’s good that you’re getting some real issues out in the open. If we can get just one or two people to ask more questions then it’s a worthwhile thing to do.”

Stepping Out Theatre, a mental health theatre group, is this week and next showing their latest play, and this time, it’s been heavily influenced by facts.

The premise of the satirical ‘The Rise and Fall of Ronald J. Dump’ is the appearance of a new industrialist starting a waste processing plant in Hallen, along with an evil mayor, dodgy local officials and ghosts warning about the future.

Now the pollution concerns of local residents, such as recent fly infestations, have found their way into the plot.

Writer Mark Breckon says he was inspired to write the play after a wrong turn saw him end up in Hallan. “The thing that was really noticeable about Hallan was that it was surrounded on all sides by heavy industry. There’s a petrol dump there, the M5 goes right through the middle of it,” he says.

It was when the play was coming together that Breckon, and other Stepping Out colleagues such as director Cher Douglas, found that actually there were complaints from local residents that mirrored the themes in the play. Breckon worked those themes into the play, in what he calls “taking reality and doing a satire of it”.

“We’re going to have a ‘call my bluff’, true or false facts,” says Douglas. “I think people will be quite surprised and think ‘Oh that can’t possibly be happening’ – but a lot of the facts in there are actually true! So we are hoping to raise awareness by showing what’s actually happening on people’s doorsteps.”

Stepping Out is a mental health theatre working with service users to help them gain confidence, skills and self-esteem. “People can really build up their confidence and by putting in a structure that makes people feel safe, as well as being exciting and challenging,” says Douglas. “We find that a lot of people can do beyond what they thought they could do, and the pay off from that is huge.”

The Rise and Fall of Ronald J. Dump runs from 11- 21 June 2018, at Kings Weston House.

Buy tickets here.


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  • I used to work for the Environment Agency (EA) and predecessor organisations National Rvers Authority and Severn Trent Water Authority.

    I worked in “flood defence”, but before the EA was set up in 1996 the body responsible for regulating polluting industries was Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) and if you can find anything nice written about them, please post it.

    After 1996 HMIP became part of the EA and their former lack of due diligence continued as far as I’m aware.

    Louise Christian summed up the situation nicely as a different circus but same clowns and the EA clowns have been asleep on the Avonmouth fly problem for years and on the incinerator issue since 1 April 1996.

    “However, Louise Christian, solicitor for the bereaved and injured in the crash, questioned the likely effectiveness of new organisations. She said: “You might have a different circus but with the same clowns.”
    (“Rail privatisation set back safety”, by Alistair Dalton, The Scotsman, 21 September 2001, page 9)


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