Izzy Edwards, Environment Agency
Catchment Coordinator – Evenlode & Windrush Catchments
Project Liaison Officer for Evenlode Landscape Recovery
This week we had the pleasure in the Evenlode catchment of hosting a visit from the chairs and leadership from Natural England, the Environment Agency & the Forestry Commission. This was a fantastic opportunity to show the heads of these public sector organisations how the catchment based approach can achieve excellent, cost effective, innovative outcomes for the environment using local knowledge.
At Blenheim Estate we looked at the “stage zero” project on the River Dorn where some simple interventions in the river channel using woody debris dams have reconnected the river with the floodplain, the benefits include creation of additional seasonal wet grassland habitat, wet woodland, flood mitigation and water quality benefits. Blenheim Estate was largely motivated to do this floodplain reconnection scheme to reduce silt traveling down the river to their historic lake – the Queen Pool, which they have recently dredged at great expense with SSSI advice of Natural England. They’ve also found that this scheme makes the field more resilient to the changing climate. In last summer’s drought, this was the last field on the estate which was still lush for their sheep to graze, proving a valuable asset. Pushing silt out of the river also reduces phosphorous levels, a key water quality driver. As part of this project, the EA have commissioned research by Bangor University to investigate carbon sequestration of the newly created wetlands.
Getting Blenheim on board through this project, where they have started to see multiple benefits, has now opened the conversation for further river restoration work and they are now part of the North East Cotswold Farmer Cluster’s (NECFC) Evenlode Landscape Recovery project. Tim got a chance to explain to the chairs all about the farm cluster and landscape recovery, and the importance of unlocking revenue payments for landowners as the necessary mechanism to transition to an environmentally sustainable farming system.
The visit at Blenheim also included an overview of the woodland creation/ carbon offsetting project where Blenheim have worked in partnership with Nicholsons, construction company Morgan Sindall and the Forestry Commission. The scheme has taken some steep arable land out of production, benefits include creation of a nectar rich grassland understory, linking existing woodland habitats, additional recreational/public access, carbon sequestration as well as preventing soil erosion into the river, which helps further with water quality and the expensive lake silting problem.
Nicholsons gave an introduction on the woodland creation scheme and we deliberated about the huge threat that grey squirrels pose to woodland establishment (and therefore our ability to store carbon). Forestry Commission and Natural England fully recognised the importance of ensuring deer and grey squirrels are controlled.
We then went on to Pudlicote Farm where we saw the creation of additional wet grassland habitat, river restoration, woodland planting and creation of species rich grassland habitats alongside an extensive mixed farming enterprise. The farm has also converted to an organic farming system with a focus on regenerative mixed farming system. Seed funded by the Environment Agency, advised by Natural England, designed by Atkins and earlier stages delivered by the Evenlode Catchment Partnership and Cotswolds Rivers Trust, Brad the landowner has largely self-funded the work here, with the aim of selling Biodiversity Net Gain units.
As well as having a chance to show off the great nature recovery work that has been done in the catchment, it was an opportunity to highlight the challenges this landscape faces to these organisations and ask for their support.
We recognised that whilst these schemes show how the farming community can make a massive difference to water quality through changing practices and working with nature, sewage pollution remains an issue in the Evenlode and to tackle the problem of poor water quality it needs all contributors to play their part.
We talked about the challenges that those delivering river and landscape restoration face when the permitting and consenting system is complex and the need for public bodies to be more joined up in their approach. We also talked about the importance of retaining good local staff at these organisations, for instance catchment sensitive farming officers – it's no good regularly changing staff when good work is built on trusting relationships which are developed over time.
Overall this felt like a really positive day and it’s great to have had the chance to engage the heads of these organisations in the challenges and opportunities which we’re facing in the Cotswolds.