CLUSTERS of Cumbrian farming groups have signed up to work on Defra stewardship projects.

The Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund rewards groups of farmers who come together to work on improving natural environment across their land, providing habitats for wildlife and helping conservation.

Currently in Cumbria, a number of such groups are working together to deliver large-scale environment improvement in their area.

Some of the groups in the county who have already signed up are the River Cocker Catchment Group with four members, Crookhurst Catchment Farmers Group with 16 members, Glenderamackin Natural Flood Management (NFM) Group with 10 members, Stockdalewath NFM Group with 14 members and Lunesdale Farmers with 23 members.

This week the Fund launched its fourth national round with further groups of farmers and landowners able to bid for a share of the £2.5 million pot until October 4.

It is expected to support around 40 new groups. Improvements could include natural flood prevention, enhancing wildlife habitats or planting more trees.

A facilitation fund agreement lasts for three years and pays for a facilitator to get farmers and other land managers working together in a co-ordinated fashion.

Although each farmer member submits their Countryside Stewardship application individually, the idea is that it is designed around the CS priorities set at a group level, so each farm picks options that are complementary to their neighbours.

The size of the groups can vary widely, with smaller projects involving a minimum of four farmers, while some of the larger projects involve up to 80 producers.

The funding available to a facilitator depends on the number of holdings that will be involved in the group and the level of input required.

The Glenderamackin NFM Group consists of local farmers and landowners together with representatives of Newton Rigg College and Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

The main aim of the group is to explore and implement measures that will help reduce flooding along the Glenderamackin and in wider Derwent catchment.

It started after large areas of farmland were affected by large volumes of sediment in the aftermath of Storm Desmond in 2015.

The Stockdalewath Natural Flood Management Group was set up in response to repeated flooding events that have severely affected local homes and properties within the Roe Beck and River Ive catchments near Carlisle.

The NFM group currently consists of 14 local farmers from within these two catchments. The group is working closely with Eden Rivers Trust (ERT) and the local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer for the River Eden catchment to identify and implement appropriate NFM (and water quality) measures throughout the area to delay the height and intensity of peak flooding by slowing and storing water within the wider catchment.

As many of these measures involve good agricultural management they will also benefit farm businesses as well as reducing flooding risks.

As part of the first phase of the Stockdalewath NFM initiative, ERT staff have undertaken farm visits and identified sites within the two catchments where NFM measures such as hedgerow restoration, watercourse fencing and the installation of leaky woody dams will help to ‘slow the flow’ of rainwater.

Research has also found that soil aeration through the two catchments could reduce flooding by up to eight percent.

Farming Minister George Eustice said:“We know that more can be achieved by trying to coordinate a landscape scale approach to creating habitats and supporting wildlife.”