By MICHAEL POLLITT
, Agricultural editor
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Three farmers have joined forces to support a long-term restoration programme in a north Norfolk river valley.
Projects have been carried out to improve water quality and reduce potential diffuse pollution in the river Bure above Aylsham.
“By working together, we have been able to deliver a much greater overall benefit,” said Jimmy Fowell, who is a former president of the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association.
With the landlord’s encouragement, tenants on the National Trust’s Blicking estate involved two advisers from Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, Sarah Cunningham and Henry Walker, to enter the higher level stewardship scheme.
Victoria Fradley, who is the north Anglia river basin co-ordinator for catchment sensitive farming, and Natural England’s HLS adviser Emily Swan, were also involved.
A group of about 20 farmers were able to see at first-hand how one tenant farm, run by Charles Skinner and his son, Matthew, had reduced diffuse pollution by putting steeply-sloping arable land into grass.
A large area of concrete around buildings at Dairy Farm, Itteringham, has now been relaid and helped to reduce risks of run-off into low-lying grazing marshes.
“The trust brought this together as a start but we took it further,” said Mr Skinner, who has another 300-acre holding about 13 miles away. His son, said: “I’ve embraced it because I think I’ve a more challenging landscape. The catchment sensitive farming grant enabled us to do the concrete.”
On the home farm of about 290 acres, it now has about one-third of grazing meadows with the latest arable reversion. “We’ve got 35 beef cows and one Aberdeen Angus bull, Roy,” said Matthew Skinner. They had bought continental cross Aberdeen Angus cows from Tony and Phillida Hurn, of Wickmere, to rear commercial stores.
The HLS scheme’s grant aid helped with heavy-duty high tensile three-strand barbed wire fencing for the cattle, which can provide 50pc of the capital cost of sheep fencing at £2.50 per metre and £1.25 per metre for cattle. It has made it possible to take sloping ground out of arable cropping.
The grassland reversion was part of the 10-year HLS management scheme. Another option involved cross drains across farm tracks to slow run-off into ditches and drains.
He still grows sugar beet but now also has lifted fodder beet as part of the winter feed ration, which includes a cut of silage taken from the new grass leys.
His neighbour, Mr Fowell, of Hill Farm, who runs a mixed enterprise with his cousin Robert, said that all three tenants had wanted to enter the HLS.
“We’d been in the ESA (environmentally sensitive areas) scheme and were coming up for review within a year. We thought let’s pull out early and put this grand scheme together because we’ve got a lot of woodland boundaries and low-lying water meadows, so we combined together,” said Mr Fowell.
He had started a pedigree Hereford herd while Tony Bambridge, of Park Farm, Blickling, chairman of the country’s biggest potato marketing group, Greenvale AP, has built up numbers of another traditional native beef breed, the Lincoln Red.
“We’ve all worked together with Matthew Skinner to secure a shared goal of improving the river valley from Ingworth Bridge to Itteringham Bridge,” said Mr Fowell.
Other aspects included resource protection, farmland birds, providing over-wintering food and insect-rich habitat. On his farm, more wild bird cover and floristic margins had also been introduced.
Natural England’s Ms Swan said that it has started to deliver benefits including more brown trout and one tenant, Charles Skinner had seen more English or grey partridges on the farm even in this very wet summer.
“I’ve seen more about this year because of the various wild bird covers and there seem to be a few more on the farm,” he added.
Ms Swan, added: “We’ve worked on all three schemes simultaneously as well as number of others along their stretch to put in a package of area-specific options that will address all the difficult issues on the farms.
“If you’ve got everybody stopping diffuse pollution getting into water courses, we end up with a bigger result at the end.”
Ms Fradley, who is responsible for the Bure, said that the CSF project had a capital grant scheme, which offered a maximum of £10,000 for each holding, in priority catchments. “Under the capital grant scheme, we had nine successful applicants this year in this catchment,” she added.
Applications will open on March 1 and close on April 30, and the work must be completed by February 2014.