Farmer co-op partners with Rothamsted to raise water quality

The Environmental Farmers Group (EFG), a co-operative setup to help farmers generate and trade their natural capital, has formed a new partnership with Rothamsted Research, to monitor water quality and demonstrate any net gains.

EFG, which is said to represent over 400 farmers covering 17% of the English countryside, has already established a water quality monitoring scheme with Rothamsted Research in the Wylye catchment in Wiltshire.

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As well as standard sampling for nutrients, local farmers are using a pioneering, low-cost colour analysis of sediment in the river.

Samples are tested in an on-farm lab, sited in a disused farm building, and the sediment can then be traced back to specific areas and inform management options to improve water quality.

EFG board member Tim Palmer, who helped establish the first on-farm lab on the Wylye, said: “Having oversight from Rothamsted will ensure the scientific credibility of the data, so it is accepted by the regulator as robust.

“The assumption is often made that agriculture is to blame for the vast majority of pollution, but in many cases, there are other factors at play, such as domestic sceptic tanks or water companies discharging waste.

“That’s why, as the regulatory framework is ratcheted up, it’s essential to have the data to accurately identify the root of the problem.”

With funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the plan is to set up a further eight water-testing labs.

These will be in the Dorset Stour and the Hampshire Avon, Test and Itchen catchments, to help make environmental baseline assessments.