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Water Friendly Farming

Water drainage

Three quarters of rivers in England and Wales are currently below ‘Good’, as defined by the Water Framework Directive.  The Water Friendly Farming project in Leicestershire is now assessing the effectiveness of a wide range of farmland measures designed to improve water quality.

It aims to offer practical solutions to farmers to reduce the impact of farming practices, according to Professor Chris Stoate, Head of Research with the Allerton Project. 

Measures incorporated in the €1m Water Friendly Farming (WFF) project, co-sponsored by Syngenta, include interception ponds and bunded ditches to capture and slow water flow - along with physical wetland habitat creation and management for biodiversity. Operation Pollinator buffer strips (right) have been established around some of the features.

Margin alongside water

“The WFF project will use the knowledge gained to demonstrate the benefits of their wider use to farmers, stakeholders and regulatory authorities,” reported Chris Stoate.

“It will also provide farmers with practical advice and support on soil, nutrient and pesticide management.”

 “Whilst there has been extensive research on the effectiveness of individual mitigation measures at field or small plot level, it is not yet clear how effective these measures could be on a catchment scale,” said Chris.

Having established baseline reference points covering major river catchments in the midlands, totalling over 300,000 hectares, the WFF research will test the interaction of these options on a large scale across three headwater catchments.


Soil protection in practice

Some of the ideas integrated to the Water Friendly Farming project were developed at the Loddington Estate in Leicestershire. The Estate’s farm manager, Phil Jarvis (right), advises the ideas and initiatives proposed have fitted well within the farm system, and are already proving to have a positive impact on soil and water management.

“Although here in the midlands we have been far less affected by rainfall and flooding than some parts of the country, it has still been incredibly wet and the fields were sodden,” he reported.

Phil Jarvis

“When we look back at pictures of soil loss from bare fields in the wet winter of 2010, the overwinter cover crop of radish and oats kept significantly more soil in the field,“ said Phil Jarvis.

He added the cover crop rooting is intended to hold together and improve the soil structure. “It should also have taken up and retained valuable nutrients, which will be released when the green cover has been ploughed back in for the spring bean establishment.”