The chairwoman of a city farm in south Bristol has claimed they have been told to remove all their animals from the farm by next Tuesday (May 4).
Last month, it was announced that Hartcliffe Community Farm had been saved after a local community group and another city farm had stepped in to take it on.
The farm will now be run by local community group Heart of BS13, with the help of Windmill Hill City Farm, which runs the nearest city farm in Bedminster.
Both organisations came together with a bid to take up the lease from Bristol City Council, which closed down the farm last year in a row over the way it had been run.
And Lorraine Horgan, the chair of the Hartcliffe Community Farm board, who run the farm at present, has now said they have been told to remove all their animals by next week.
Bristol City Council has said that, since HCPF Ltd were served notice to leave in February 2020, repeated requests for an orderly handover for the farm have been ignored and that they have been left with no option but to instruct bailiffs to help fulfil their obligations.
The council has said the welfare of the animals on site has always been a top priority and HCPF Ltd’s departure was delayed after the possession order took effect on March 1 to assist with the animals’ safety during the lambing season.
Ms Horgan said: “It is not democratic, it is a dictatorship.
“We have had no saying at all in what has happened here.
“This is a community farm in the middle of the community and we have not done anything wrong.
“We don’t owe them a penny, we have never been in debt to the council.
“The fact we have managed to self-sustain has been a miracle.”
The local resident said they were served with the eviction notice last Tuesday in the middle of the night, when the locks were also changed.
She said there is now security guards at the farm 24/7, the gates are closed and that only the farm manager is now allowed access at certain times to bottle-feed the lambs.
“They have said that if the animals are not removed by next Tuesday, they will take them to market and sell them,” she continued. “It has been absolutely relentless.
“I am absolutely devastated – the farm will no longer be a farm.
“Our understanding is that there will no large animals there.”
However,, the new farm will aim to keep a range of farm livestock and other animals for public interest, educational uses and therapeutic interactions.
Ms Horgan said the process has been horrendous for her as well as the community, and described the way they have been treated as appalling and brutal.
She said it was a David and Goliath situation.
Ms Horgan – who has been involved in the farm since the beginning – said they have already got rid of some animals, including the birds in the aviary, the ducks, pigs and cows, after being put under extreme pressure to do so.
At the moment, they have ten lambs, including two that are being bottle-fed, eight ewes and a ram, as well as some goats.
She said they don’t know what will happen with the animals yet, adding she has no idea about what will happen on Tuesday and that they don’t know what their plan of action will be.
“We are in the highest deprivation area in the country, the whole idea was that they could walk up to the farm and see the animals in their environment,” she continued.
“It has always been free and open, it has been a major part of the community and it goes back generations.
“There was nothing in that piece of land when we took it over.
“The idea was to make something unique in Hartcliffe – everything on that farm belongs to the community.
“It is part of the fabric of the community – there is nothing else here.”
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Ms Horgan said this is a political decision and that she thinks the council wants to evict them before the election.
In early 2020, before the pandemic threw the issue into lengthy delays, council chiefs made it clear they would not be renewing the lease to the board of volunteers and staff who ran the farm, and questioned their competency.
That prompted fears in the community that the farm was being primed to be sold off for development, or for other projects which would mean it would be lost as a free-to-access community resource.
The council then put the lease out to tender, inviting bids from a wide range of organisations.
What Bristol City Council says
A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “We are committed to working with the two south Bristol organisations driving the farm’s regeneration, Windmill Hill City Farm and Heart of BS13 as well as local citizens, to make sure this popular site can be enjoyed and the new operators’ vision of creating local jobs, training and enterprise opportunities is achieved.
“Since HCPF Ltd were served notice to leave in February 2020, repeated requests for an orderly handover for the farm have been ignored and we have sadly been left with no option but to instruct bailiffs to help us fulfil our obligations.
“The site will keep its roots as a farm, remain free to the public and host many activities for the local community to get involved in, with an interim lease expected to be granted to the new tenants by July, to allow the site to open to staff, volunteers and some start-up activities.
“Bristol City Council is making sure that any remaining animals receive proper care, after securing approval to move them for their agreed rehoming at other farms. To minimise any distress around their movement, HCPF’s Farm Manager is continuing to have access to the site to assist with their care.
“The welfare of the animals on site has always been a top priority and HCPF Ltd’s departure was delayed after the possession order took effect on 1 March, to assist with the animals’ safety during the lambing season.’’
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