Earlier this month farmers from the Thame Valley farmer cluster joined River Thame Conservation Trust and Natural England staff to discuss current agri-environment schemes, how these might be changing, and what part they could play in the development of catchment-wide water and wildlife friendly farming practices. We are in the early stages of this partnership project, which was developed to tackle the complex and difficult to mitigate impacts of agriculture on the River Thame, its tributaries and the wider catchment. We have a range of advice documents for landowners on our website, but it’s important to understand the fine-grain of the catchment and see where there are opportunities to improve the environment for the benefit of future generations. Something close to the heart of many local farmers.
The Thame flows through a largely agricultural landscape, with a main river corridor dominated by grazed pasture where wet ground and heavy clay soils discourage cultivation. Winter flooding is a regular feature of the Thame and the floodplain supports important (but fast declining) breeding populations of waders (such as curlew, snipe, redshank and lapwing). These birds, and a range of other threatened animal and plant species, will benefit from a more holistic approach to managing the landscape.
Agriculture is one of the main sources of diffuse pollution in the catchment, alongside wastewater and sewage discharges, road and urban run-off. A range of pollutants can enter our river from agriculture including sediment, nitrates, phosphates, metaldehydes, pesticides and herbicides. All of these have varying impacts on the biodiversity and health of the freshwaters in the Thame catchment.
However, pollution from agriculture is a complex issue, and with a growing population food production is very important. The Thame Valley farmer cluster will provide practical information and advice about sustainable farming practices that will enable farmers to make informed choices. We will discuss key issues and initiatives, such as Catchment Sensitive Farming, Countryside Stewardship, ELMS, and off-setting and collaborate over landscape-scale conservation projects. We hope to reduce pollutants getting into the water courses, to conserve and restore wildlife habitats, improve soil quality and soil carbon stores as well as help to regulate water flow in winter and infiltration in summer.
This farm cluster is one of three in the catchment, all supported by different funding streams but with many aims in common. The other two groups are the Lower Thame farmer cluster and the Central Chilterns farmer cluster. For more information visit the Engaging Farmers project page.
We would like to thank the Rothschild Foundation and the EA for supporting this project.