In association with the Environment Agency
Anthony Ogg is the tenant at College Farm in north Lincolnshire, which used to be a 178-hectare arable farm. He is a good example of the part that some farmers can play in managing flood risk to protect the wider community.
His experience also shows how adapting to climate change can create opportunities for farm businesses.
From 2001 to 2008, Mr Ogg (pictured below) converted 89ha of his farm to wetland pasture, in collaboration with the Environment Agency. The EA bought the land from Mr Ogg’s previous landlord, and the relatively low rent he is charged reflects the environmental value of his farming practices. His fields will act as floodwater storage areas when the tide is high, reducing flood risk elsewhere along the Humber estuary.
The new grassland is now home to a 70-cow pedigree Limousin suckler herd. Mr Ogg’s son Gavin established the herd, and it is managed by father and son working in partnership. Thanks to local authority funding, the farm also has a tea room which is proving popular, even in winter.
Mr Ogg anticipates that business will continue to increase as he opens all the permissive footpaths on his land. When the £10 million Humber flood defence scheme is finished, he hopes to join the Higher Level Stewardship scheme and to increase his income and visitor numbers further.
The new wetland is attractive to many species of wildfowl and wading birds. This means that the farm’s established caravan park is likely to be frequented by increasing numbers of bird watchers and conservationists in the future.
“Initially I was very apprehensive about the flood scheme, but now it has started to operate properly I can see many opportunities for increasing my income through diversification, while helping to protect Goole and Hull from flooding,” Mr Ogg says.
Counting the cost and reaping the benefits
• Anthony Ogg has made his farm more viable in the long-term, and increased its value to the wider community, by adapting his land use and diversifying his business
• If he enters HLS it will provide £41 per hectare for permissive open access and £45 per 100m for permissive footpaths
• There is also a £350 base payment. There are additional payments for educational work and upgrading access for the disabled, cyclists and horses
Farmers can help prevent runoff from land, says the Environment Agency’s Paul Meakin. “The key to this is understanding the soil risks on your farm and planning your land use and cultivations accordingly. Use the right cultivations at the right time and change your stocking rates in line with weather conditions. This will not only reduce the risk of flooding but also stop losses of soil and nutrients to rivers and streams.”
A simple measure, such as loosening the soil and creating a rough soil surface after harvest, then leaving it for as long as possible, will allow water to soak in rather than run off, he says.
Mr Meakin advises farmers to use appropriate cultivations and establish natural breaks, such as beetle banks or rough grass strips that can divert water and slow it down. A 6m buffer strip can reduce the amount of soil particles reaching an adjacent watercourse by up to 60%, he says.
“You can also counter the risk of runoff by planting woodland belts, drilling early, undersowing spring crops with a cover crop such as grass or mustard, and avoiding high-risk crops on steep slopes.
“If you keep animals outside through the winter, keep them away from watercourses. Set stock levels according to soil and weather conditions to avoid too much damage to soils.”
• Cultivate along contours where it is safe and practical to do so
• Research suggests that tramlines can be responsible for as much as 60 per cent of runoff on some soils. Consider loosening tramlines on high-risk land, as this can be effective if done at right angles to the slope. Avoid loosening tramlines running up and down slopes, as this can lead to channelling of runoff and gulley erosion
• Establish coarse seedbeds on unstable soils
• Incorporate more organic matter into your soil where needed
• Keep cattle away from watercourses during the winter
• Establish cross-slope beetle banks
• Cultivate as soon as possible after late harvest to loosen the soil. This will help to reduce runoff
Wetlands are present in both the uplands and the lowlands and can play a vital role in flood control, Mr Meakin says.
“Some wetlands slow the speed at which water flows off higher land and can store water that might otherwise inundate homes and businesses. But the value of the wetlands on your farm goes far beyond this. They absorb and process sediment and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate, preventing pollution of lakes and rivers. They support a unique variety of wildlife and provide attractive landscapes for recreation and tourism. In periods of drought they recharge rivers and aquifers.
“You can share in these benefits by looking after existing wetlands and establishing new ones on your land.”
Farmers should avoid draining natural wetlands – too many were drained in the past, he says. “Wet grassland that is seasonally flooded can be grazed and cut for hay in late summer. Areas of bog and marsh can be grazed lightly with appropriate breeds of cattle, and you can use grazing to control the encroachment of willow and alder scrub and coarse grasses. Funding is available for this through Higher Level Stewardship on high-value sites.”
• Use light grazing to remove scrub from natural wetlands or prevent it from becoming established.
• Increase biodiversity and help combat flooding downstream by creating wetland buffer zones, including wet woodland, along watercourses.
• Rejuvenate farm ponds and establish new ones. They can be used to encourage wildlife, trap excess nutrients and sediment, and provide water for fire fighting.
• Create a reed bed to treat contaminated runoff or weak effluents from your farm buildings and yards. A variety of plants including common reed and yellow flag iris can be used. By incorporating a willow plantation in your treatment system you can grow a biomass fuel crop as a by-product.
• Consider using Higher Level Stewardship or Tir Gofal funding to create new wetlands or restore degraded ones.
• Seek specialist advice on wetlands from the Environment Agency, Natural England or the Wildlife Trusts. You can identify and contact your local wildlife trust at www.wildlifetrusts.org/index.php?section=localtrusts
Managing land drains, ditches and streams
Mr Meakin says that carefully managed ditches and drains can improve access to land, help flood management and increase biodiversity.
The Environment Agency is responsible for maintaining the main rivers in England and Wales. Farmers are responsible for looking after streams and all other smaller watercourses that pass through their land, he says.
“A well-managed land drainage system, ditch or stream allows water to drain freely enough to prevent saturation of soils. Badly managed watercourses and land drains may inhibit drainage.
“Clear large debris from watercourses, and prepare a ditch management plan to help you clear vegetation from ditches in rotation. Ensure that you maintain the flow of water but avoid clearing too much vegetation too often, as this will damage wildlife habitats.
“Directing water flow into a well maintained ditch will help you prevent soil loss and damage to fields and tracks. Creating a pond in a ditch will slow water down even more and provide a wildlife asset for your farm.”
• Avoid directing runoff towards roads and watercourses
• Discharge roof water into swales or soakaways around the farm, to slow water down and recharge groundwater
• Mark land-drain outfalls to ease maintenance and avoid damage
• Use agri-environment funding to establish ponds
• Maintain ditches on a rotational basis to achieve a good balance between habitat and flow
• The England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative can provide aid for cross drains for farm tracks and swales