Severn Trent Agricultural Adviser Project
Over 70% of Warwickshire is agricultural land, therefore in order to achieve Living Landscapes we must work collaboratively with farmers and land managers to make space for nature. In 2018 Warwickshire Wildlife Trust started working in partnership with Severn Trent to help farmers protect soil, biodiversity and the water environment, at the same time as supporting productive agriculture. This partnership is part of a wider project also involving Worcestershire and Shropshire Wildlife Trust, enabling us to achieve bigger, better, more joined up areas for the benefit of wildlife and people. Severn Trent fund seven agricultural advisers who are employed within the Wildlife Trusts, one in Warwickshire and three in both Shropshire and Worcestershire.
The project supports farmers to improve their farming practices and helps to create cleaner rivers in our county. There are a number of rivers that are high priority to advise farmers on, usually because of steep slopes, proximity to watercourses or the type of crops being grown. In Warwickshire these are the River Leam and the Upper River Avon.
The advice we give to farmers is intended to encourage cultural rather than chemical treatment of crops. Metaldehyde is a molluscicide used by farmers which is added to winter wheat and winter oilseed rape crops in the form of slug pellets. These crops are most susceptible to slugs as they are sown in the autumn, the slugs feed on the young shoots, whilst living in a perfect habitat of damp, clay-rich soils which occur in parts of Warwickshire. A bad slug infestation can lead to significant loss of these crops reducing our food production. Metaldehyde along with other chemicals can reduce the cleanliness of the river, impacting on wildlife and resulting in the water needing to be cleaned before people can drink it. Constantly treating these crops with chemicals makes them expensive to grow. So we advise farmers on how to adapt their methods to protect the local watercourses, and suggest cost effective alternatives that also support nature’s recovery.
Alongside this we also work with Severn Trent to support with the delivery of their STEPS programme (Severn Trent Environmental Protection Scheme). The grant programme offers a wide range of options to farmers for infrastructure investment and land management items. It is a voluntary scheme and farmers can apply for a grant to support a range of outcomes from the creation of cover crops, to fencing, to pesticide wash down areas and biofilters. These items help the farmer to minimise their impact on the river and help make our rivers cleaner.
The map below shows the Upper Avon river catchment in purple and the Leam river catchment in red, which are the target areas for this project.