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Clusters can help East Anglian farmers deliver for the environment, says policy expert

PUBLISHED: 10:55 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:06 03 July 2019

Graeme Willis, senior rural policy campaigner, Campaign to Protect Rural England, speaking at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum 2019  Pictures: Ross Bentley

Graeme Willis, senior rural policy campaigner, Campaign to Protect Rural England, speaking at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum 2019 Pictures: Ross Bentley

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By working together farmers will have more opportunities to improve the rural environment on a landscape scale, according to CPRE speaker.

A line-up of speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum 2019  Picture: Ross BentleyA line-up of speakers at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum 2019 Picture: Ross Bentley

Graeme Willis, who is a senior rural policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, was speaking at the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum, held recently at Shrubs Farm in Lamarsh on the Essex/Suffolk border.

He talked about farmers clusters, an initiative gaining momentum in the farming sector that sees farmers and land managers working more cohesively together with a conservation adviser in their locality, to enable them to collectively deliver greater benefits for soil, water and wildlife at a landscape scale.

Mr Willis said farmers clusters offer members the chance to get advice and support, and to share resources, be it livestock for grazing or machinery. Farmers can also exchange knowledge.

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"Farmers prefer to listen to each other rather than external experts," he said.

According to the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, there are many examples of this type of approach to landscape-scale conservation underway across the country. The Trust says work is often supplemented by existing agri-environment schemes.

During a Q&A session at the Forum, prominent Suffolk farmer Geoffrey Probert said a cluster was being formed in the area.

"It's early days but we are talking with farmers of 70 to 80% of the farmland in the Stour Valley about joining a cluster," he said.

"It's about looking after the countryside on a landscape scale and presents an opportunity [for conservation groups] to get in with farmers."

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