A WATER-FRIENDLY farming programme has delivered a massive £700,000 of financial support in its first year for farmers on the River Petteril

Last year saw the launch of Eden Rivers Trust’s (ERT) three-year water-friendly farming programme to improve the health of watercourses in the Petteril and help farm businesses make better use of their resources.

Over the last year, Andy Dyer, senior farming and conservation officer at Eden Rivers Trust has worked closely with farmers, landowners and land managers within the River Petteril Facilitation Fund group, a farm cluster group previously set up by the Trust.

He has visited individual farms in the area to identify the areas and features that contribute towards that farm’s natural capital and then discussed ways that farmers can put them to good use to improve water quality and habitat in the becks and rivers across/close to the farm and make better use of resources within the farm business.

This has all been delivered through one-to-one advice and support, focusing on water quality, nutrient management, air quality, soil management, natural flood management and habitat creation. Andy also identified how farmers could access funding; either through Countryside Stewardship (CS) schemes and/or private funders.

He explained: “This one-to-one approach is a critical part of the project. As the local rivers trust dedicated to improving and protecting Eden’s rivers, we appreciate the key role that farmers already play in looking after the environment. We hope that farmers will value having a fresh pair of eyes completing a full walkover over their land. We can also assess any gaps in farm paperwork and understanding of regulations and schemes which could be addressed via additional support and guidance, potentially through the Facilitation Fund Group, which is already well-established in the Petteril catchment.

“By building closer working relationships with farmers and landowners, we can work together to build both a sustainable, resilient farm business and environment.”

In its first year, the Trust was able to identify a massive £700,000 of support for the farmers taking part in the programme, through capital grants and annual payments for options spread over the next five years under Countryside Stewardship schemes.

The benefits were realised by identifying water quality improvement opportunities on farms, such as hedgerow management and planting, rainwater harvesting, roofing over yards, concrete renewal, buffer strips, low fertiliser pasture management, fencing of watercourses, livestock tracks and yard drainage improvements.

Andy added: “Every £1 that Eden Rivers Trust has invested in this programme in terms of staff time and overheads has unlocked £33 for work in the catchment that will benefit the river. That’s a fantastic return on investment.”

The project has demonstrated the importance of identifying potential opportunities and interventions using a mix of technology and site visits. Using satellite and aerial imagery in conjunction with GIS (Geographic Information System) data can provide initial ideas as to where interventions can be placed for maximum benefit.

By looking at both the farm and the wider environment outside its boundaries, discussions can take place to determine how a collaborative approach to delivering key environmental benefits both locally and on a landscape scale can be achieved and what financial or other assistance or incentivisation is required to achieve that outcome.

Andy hopes that the information gained from this project will lead to enhanced collaboration between neighbouring farmers.