Water Friendly Farming, a landscape-scale research initiative for protecting water bodies

The BES Policy Team attended the launch of Water Friendly Farming, a new research initiative on sustainable water management in the Portcullis House today. The programme is run by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Pond Conservation, Syngenta and other partners (e.g. Anglian Water, University of York).

The event was hosted by John Palmer, the Earl of Selborne and chair of the Partners Board of Living with Environmental Change. He opened the event by reminding the audience that everybody lives in a catchment area and everybody is part of the problem therefore everybody has to be part of the solution as well.

The Earl’s speech was followed by the summary of the programme by Jeremy Biggs from Pond Conservation. He started his presentation with a shocking fact that 95% of lowland water bodies in the UK are seriously contaminated. Then he stated that causes for this degradation are rather well known (e.g. agriculture, sewage, run offs from roads) and mitigation measures using millions of pounds are already in place. But he debated if those measures had been effective in improving water quality. He took the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme as an example which resulted in favourable changes only in 30% of the cases with no clear explanation why success rate is so low. Water Friendly Farming aims to answer the following questions: “Why aren’t existing measures working?” and “What do we need to do?”. To answer these questions they set up a landscape-scale (30km2) experiment with a Before-After-Control-Impact design in Leicestershire. They already started the work by a robust, three-year-long baseline monitoring which will help to evaluate the results of the experiments.

After this presentation we got a glimpse of the practical side of the project by Chris Stoate from Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. He talked about the characteristics of Eye Brook catchment, the landscape where the project takes place. They have already been conducting research there for 20 years aiming to understand how a catchment works. Within the Water Friendly Farming project they have worked in close co-operation with farmers and the local community from the beginning.

The last presenter, Mike Bushell, represented Syngenta and talked about the project from an agribusiness view. He emphasised that in the future sustainable intensification of agriculture is unavoidable and that this lies on three pillars: increased productivity, resource use efficiency and better environmental outcomes. He applauded the project stating that this initiative will provide the knowledge for achieving sustainable intensification of farms in the future.

All the presenters highlighted the novelty and uniqueness of the project that are:
• largest scale catchment experiment so far
• considers all types of diffuse pollution affecting the rural water environment
• involves all water bodies (ponds, up to 3rd order streams, ditches)
• includes 3 years baseline study
• assesses water quality, biodiversity and ecosystem services together
• involves farmers and local communities in all activities.

We are all looking forward to the results of this project which hopefully will be of relevance to all stakeholders involved in protecting and managing freshwater environments

For more information on the project, contact Pond Conservation.