THE LANDCARE project in the Upper Avon catchment area started around ten years ago.
It was prompted by complaints made to the Environment Agency about silt pollution of chalky streams, causing salmon numbers to decline, and homes affected by muddy floods.
“There was a lot of public pressure on us to take action,” says EA South Wessex‘ Richard Smith.
“If muddy floodwater was coming from a quarry, or even a forest, we would act fast to do something about it.”
But a detailed soil survey of the area pin-pointed the source of silt deposition to sandy farmland in the upper reaches of the catchment.
EA officers worked in partnership with farmers in the area to raise awareness of the problem.
“Awareness is 50% of the issue – we really have to be sure we‘re connecting with farmers to get the message across.”
Demonstration farms were set up with trial plots, and now the partnership is beginning to reap rewards.
“When we first started out, farmers said they didn‘t think there was a problem.
“But now, following this targeted approach, all of the farmers in the area are involved and doing something to help.
“The salmon catch in the river reached a rock bottom of just 38 a few years ago. Last year it was 180, and our target is 400.”
Local farmer Richard Butler has seen the trials for himself and has adopted techniques on 400ha (1000 acres) of Pusey Vale greensand to limit erosion and run-off.
These include finishing autumn drilling earlier, incorporating more straw, identifying fields where planting maize may cause problems, and drilling along contours on slopes.
“The measures haven‘t really cost us much and some of them are quite sensible from an agronomic point of view,” says Mr Butler.
“But what‘s worked here is that it‘s voluntary and it is not a blanket approach.
“We‘re only just beginning to realise the lessons, and we need a lot more research and training to help back it up.”