Slowing the flow of water as it leaves the hills

Over the last few winters we’ve seen the impact of major flooding on communities and the landscapes across the UK. Nigel Hester, project manager at the National Trust, reflects on some of the lessons from a major flood demonstration project in north Somerset:

The weather this winter has been characterised by a series of storms battering the UK with gales, mountainous seas and record amounts of rainfall, causing misery, damage and disruption to homes, businesses, infrastructure and the landscape.

 

Allerford 4

Water flowing through the village of Allerford on the River Aller; one of two villages that have been at risk of flooding as the waters head down from the hills of Exmoor

In recent years, there has been a shift in focus in flood risk management recognising that, in addition to conventional flood measures, more can be achieved by allowing the land to function more naturally. This natural flood management is at the core of an exciting demonstration flood project at the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate in Exmoor.

The project, core funded by Defra, has been running for 6 years and shows how working with nature, introducing some careful natural flood management interventions, and working in partnership, can contribute to reducing local flood risk and, importantly, provide a range of other benefits for the environment and local communities.

The target area for the work is based on the whole catchment approach, working from source of the rivers Horner and Aller high on Exmoor down to the Bristol Channel, using natural features to slow down or store flood water before it reaches the downstream villages of Allerford and Bossington.

East from bund top

One of the bunds, helping to store the water when the river levels rise, helping to reduce the risk of flooding in the villages of Allerford and Bossington

Since 2011 a range of natural flood management measures have been undertaken including moorland drainage interventions, woody debris dams, woodland creation, leaky weirs and flood storage areas on the floodplain.

Partnership work with farmers has also focused on improved soil management to reduce run-off and soil loss during rainfall events. In addition, it has been critical to have an extensive hydrological monitoring network in place to provide high quality rainfall and flow data to capture the effects on any land management changes made.

The extreme weather events in recent years have been a good test of the natural flood management measures implemented and the key outcomes are very positive. During a severe storm in late December 2013, when the ground was already waterlogged, there was a 10% reduction in the flood peak reaching the downstream villages.

In the extremely wet winter of 2013/14, there was no flooding in the vulnerable catchment villages that have experienced regular flooding in the past. The insurance value of the properties at risk is estimated at £30 million yet the capital costs of constructing the flood storage area were £163,000, a small cost in comparison.

Despite the high rainfall experienced so far in 2016, people’s homes have remained dry and the river has remained in its channel. The work has not finished at Holnicote; there are still lots of opportunities to slow the flow even further by encouraging the land to act as a natural sponge and the National Trust is committed to finding ways to continue this work into the future.

Fine Farm Produce Awards to be announced this evening

The National Trust’s Fine Farm Produce Award winners will be announced at an exclusive event at Selfridges in London this evening.

This year is the 10th anniversary of these prestigious awards which recognise the very best of the conservation charity’s 1,500 tenant farmers and producers.

We go behind the scenes of the judging process with Helen Beer, deputy editor of the National Trust magazine, who gives a behind the scenes glimpse of what happens during the ‘taste test’ element of the rigorous judging process.

The National Trust's Fine Farm Produce Awards will be held at Selfridges in London tonight

The National Trust’s Fine Farm Produce Awards will be held at Selfridges in London tonight

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Shepherd found for Snowdonia project

The National Trust has appointed a second shepherd to support its innovative conservation project in the foothills of Snowdon in North Wales.

Daniel Jones, 36, from Anglesey will support the current shepherd, Bryn Griffiths at the conservation charity’s in-hand farm, Hafod-y-Llan in caring for the 1600 flock of Welsh Mountain sheep during daylight hours for the next five months.

He will be joined by his two sheepdogs, Jill and Nel.

Daniel Jones with his sheepdogs Jill and Nel in his new role at Hafod Y Llan. Credit Gerallt Llewellyn

Daniel Jones with his sheepdogs Jill and Nel in his new role at Hafod Y Llan. Credit Gerallt Llewellyn

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National Trust reveals potential with badger vaccination programme conclusion

The National Trust revealed today that it had slashed the costs of vaccinating badgers during a four year project at its Killerton estate in Devon, set in the heart of one of the country’s bovine TB hotspots.

The aim of the project, funded by the conservation charity, was to demonstrate that the vaccination of badgers at an estate-wide scale can be made practical and cost-effective. This has meant that the National Trust can play an important part in reducing the exposure of cattle to bovine TB in wildlife, which has had a devastating impact across the farming community.

Vaccinating badgers in order to reduce their level of bovine TB infection will reduce the risk of cattle being exposed to the disease.

18 National Trust tenant farmers were involved in the programme which was carried out across an area of 20 square kilometres on the south west estate.

When it launched in 2011, the Trust estimated that the project would cost £80,000 a year to administer. During the four years, however, the process of capturing and vaccinating the badgers became more efficient, reducing the annual costs to £45,000 while the number of badgers vaccinated increased significantly from the first year.

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director for the National Trust, said: “As a major landowner with many farming tenants, we understand how devastating an outbreak of bovine TB can be. That’s why it’s important for us to play our part in tackling this disease by finding a practical solution to prevent its spread.

“As well as calling for better biosecurity, we started the project at Killerton to show how badger vaccination can be deployed over a large area, which we’ve done. Now we want to share this knowledge and the lessons we’ve learnt with the opening of Killerton as a national training school for the vaccination of badgers.”

Working alongside trainers from Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), the Killerton estate will host training courses aimed at farmers and landowners in affected areas. The course will provide attendees with the skills required to obtain a license to trap and vaccinate badgers.

Patrick Begg continued: “Whatever the conclusions about whether the pilot culls are effective, vaccination needs to be part of the mix of measures needed to tackle bovine TB. We’d like to see the Government working with partners to carry out further testing to show its effectiveness as part of a multi-pronged approach to tackling the disease.”

The National Trust is continuing its support of badger vaccinations by also working with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, NFU and CLA on a vaccination programme in Derbyshire.
The programme will see badgers vaccinated over the next four years in an area focussing on 26 square kilometres of farmland and National Trust land in and around Edale and the Peak District National Park, following funding of £98,600 from Defra.

Carl Hawke, National Trust’s Wildlife and Countryside Adviser in Derbyshire, said: “We’re really pleased to be part of this project. We’ve employed a project co-ordinator and recruited volunteers to work alongside Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s team to ensure we vaccinate as many badgers as possible over the next four years.”

Beef and beer come out top at the Fine Farm Produce Awards

Two producers have risen to the top to be crowned overall food and overall drinks winner at this year’s Fine Farm Produce Awards.

Neil and Sally Grigg from Burrow Farm in Devon - overall food winner at the Fine Farm Produce Awards 2014

Neil and Sally Grigg from Burrow Farm in Devon – overall food winner at the Fine Farm Produce Awards 2014

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Taking a holistic approach to food production

Today see’s the publication of a major new report on food and farming in the UK, called ‘Square Meal’, by ten organisations, including the National Trust. Rural Enterprises Director at the Trust, Patrick Begg (http://twitter.com/NT_Pat), takes a look at the focus of the report and the challenges ahead.

“The last week has been one of soaring highs and depressing lows.

First, was the most inspiring of visits to Knepp Castle Estate near Horsham in West Sussex, where Charlie Burrell has been re-inventing a thriving, lowland estate. His 2,000 acres has gone, in just over a decade, from a scoured, arable/dairy financial black hole, to a landscape dripping with natural health and economic possibilities.

This was followed by the House of Commons debate on implementing the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) in the UK. It was a dispiriting and familiar trip around the threats to agriculture from administrative burdens and regulatory hurdles to the reinforcement of apparent entitlements to cash. These are issues, of course, and they do need to be dealt with.

But there’s a need for a much bigger debate and for thinking that breaks free from the bureaucratic and self-interested doldrums. We need to look beyond CAP and to address the constraints that farming’s dependency on it has created.

So we’ve been delighted to come together with a range of organisations to kick start the debate. The ‘Square Meal’ report , published today, sets out the scale of the challenges around food, nature, environmental protection, farming livelihoods, diet and health and challenges the political parties to rise to these in framing their manifestos for the forthcoming election.

There are a range of specific policy responses which we believe are critical to future progress. These include: ensuring public procurement leads in the purchasing of sustainably produced food; stopping using ‘production efficiency’ as the key metric for success; and making a much more effective and concrete response to the call for ‘bigger, better, more joined up’ habitats which Prof John Lawton enshrined in his vital report on the future of nature.

We’re also asking for much more leadership from Government. Without this, it’s hard to see how the big leaps we need can be made. We want a long term vision in place that blends the farming, food, environmental and social sectors much more coherently and we need Government to address market failures and to reward those delivering public benefit complemented by a properly embedded ‘polluter pays’ principle. We hope the ‘Square Meal’ report will kick-start this conversation.”

National Trust reaction to Government announcement on badgers

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “We’re pleased that the Government has recognised the need to learn lessons from the pilots. We wrote to Defra last year expressing our deepest concerns about the conduct of the culls, so it’s encouraging that they appear to be listening.

“We welcome their commitment to looking harder at the potential of vaccination at the heart of a suite of measures to get this devastating disease under control, including funding for vaccination projects and continued efforts to reduce the risks of cattle giving other cattle the disease – still the greatest route for the infection to spread. We’ve funded our own large vaccination programme on our Killerton estate so we’re pleased Defra are now looking to support programmes like this.

“What is clear to us, as an organisation that cares about wildlife and our farm tenants who carry out much of our conservation work in the wider countryside, is that the Government’s actions must be based on sound scientific evidence and meet highest possible standards of conduct, or risk making this devastating disease even worse. We are pleased that they appear to be listening, but will need to look at the detail of the strategy and the panel’s report before concluding our position.”