THE owner of a turkey rearing business in Clearwell may be ordered to pull down an unlicensed giant poultry shed, after a planning inspector said it could harm a nationally important habitat for protected bats.

Forest Council planners refused retrospective permission for the building at Clearwell Farm, The Rocks, last year, and an appeal by Stephen Hay of Hay Farms, Ross-on-Wye, has now been dismissed, opening the way for possible enforcement action.

The poultry operation has been the subject of a long-running planning saga over the last three years, with many villagers opposing more breeding on the site, claiming the smell, pollution and traffic could “cause serious and irreversible damage to the tourist industry” of the village and its surroundings.

The farm on Lambsquay Road is close to various attractions, including Puzzlewood and the Secret Forest, the Clearwell Castle wedding venue and award-winning restaurants and pubs.

Last April, Mr Hay unsuccessfully applied for planning permission for a third poultry rearing shed on the site, housing up to 4,470 turkeys, which had been built without permission.

Planning inspector Matthew Bale has now rejected an appeal following a public hearing in Coleford, highlighting the effect on the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean bat sites Special Area of Conservation, which is a habitat for greater and lesser horseshoe bats.

He said the SAC contained the “greatest concentration of greater horseshoe bats in the UK”, and traffic movements associated with the poultry shed could harm their underground roosts in the caves system under the entrance to the farm.

It wasn’t possible to confirm from the evidence provided that the caves under the entrance were still stable, he added, and it couldn’t be “ruled out beyond reasonable scientific doubt that the traffic movements… would not have an adverse effect.”

Natural England had opposed the scheme on the grounds that it would “have an adverse effect on the integrity of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Bat Site SAC”, and “damage or destroy the interest feature” of Bow and Ham Mines Site of Special Scientific Interest”.

Mr Bale added: “There is no dispute that ammonia levels within the woodland are in excess of those that the Environment Agency considers may cause harm to the ancient woodland habitat.”

But he accepted that despite the concerns of local residents, including Newland Parish Council, the levels of ammonia already existing in the woodland would not be increased by the addition of the one poultry shed alongside the two that already existed.

Welcoming the planning inspector’s ruling as a “significant victory”, local campaigner Mary Condrad said: “The cave in which the bats roost are directly below the approach road and are prone to damage from vibrations caused by lorries passing overhead.

“The consultants for the turkey farm were unable to prove there would be no further damage by lorries,” she added.