Farmers around Blithfield Reservoir are demonstrating their commitment to a clean and thriving environment by joining a group set up to promote environmental improvement and cleaner water in the catchment. Over 30 farmers attended the initial meeting of the group on 28 November 2016 and heard Chris Seabridge outline the challenges facing the catchment. He was supported by speakers Nina Yiannoukos from South Staffordshire Water and the Voluntary Initiative’s Patrick Goldsworthy. Local farmer Tim Pratt volunteered to Chair the group and will work with Chris to set up a steering group and develop a programme of events that will help farmers to deliver real improvements, supported by the SPRING grant scheme run by South Staffordshire Water.

The Blithfield group has members farming over 2300 hectares of land in the catchment who aim to reduce the losses of nutrients and pesticides from their land as well as to enhance habitats and wildlife. They hope to expand by signing up farmers who manage land downstream, but who’s land drainage is pumped back up into Blithfield reservoir through South Staffordshire Water’s pump back scheme.

Members listening to presentations at the event

Chris Seabridge and Associates organised two engaging meetings supported by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and considering ‘Water on your Farm’: looking to improve resource protection as part of viable farm businesses. CFE aims to help farmers to use the right measure in the right place at the right time and demonstrate the benefits that farmers provide to the environment.

Our first event was an evening meeting in Shifnal to look at the practicalities and benefits of a switch to controlled traffic farming (CTF). Speakers included Tim Chamen, international expert on CTF, and Nigel Adams, a local farmer who is implementing the technique. An interested audience of local farmers enjoyed a stimulating discussion around Nigel’s experiences with the technique, informed by Tim’s expertise. Ken Downward of Natural England backed up the CFE messages by providing information on grants available to support changes that will improve water resource protection.

The lead speaker for the second evening was Nick Tilt, a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) farmer from near Ludlow, who talked about his multi-faceted farm business which includes egg-layers and heifer rearing supported by a successful arable enterprise on around 220 hectares as well as diversification into related enterprises such as importing dairy equipment and letting property: all aimed at ensuring the core business is viable and sustainable. Nick explained his farming philosophy, which is based on keeping the land in good heart and the bottom line healthy. His approach to soil management and care for the environment means that improvements in soil and water quality follow naturally.  He told the audience how LEAF fits in with his approach to sustainable farming and helps to improve his returns. He has made good use of grants for environmental improvement, working with Severn Trent Water and with Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) to make it easier to implement the improvements he wanted. Ben Young of Severn Trent Water and Jo Baird from CSF explained more about grant availability.

After a very tight competition between excellent entries this year’s Whitegrove award, judged by Kate Mayne, Chair of CFE in Shropshire, has been won by Martin Osborne and his sons James and William, who together run Union Hall Farm near Kinver. They manage beef and combinable crops enterprises on 279 hectares in rolling countryside near Kinver Edge, which includes some difficult land. Changes in farming operations and systems have made the family consider value and productivity across all their enterprises and working in this beautiful setting inspired them to make careful and strategic use of agri-environment options. Whitegrove judge Kate Mayne said “Thoughtful plans regarding the suckler beef herd show the family are carefully considering how to integrate the needs of species-rich grassland with producing quality, marketable beef.” She praised their knowledge and enthusiasm in wildlife and environmental enhancement and their excellent species records, which show a drive for continual improvement.

Judge Kate Mayne and James Osborne examine one of the agri-environment options

David Dale of B.J. Dale & Co Ltd, 2015 winners of the Whitegrove Farm Conservation trophy, is kindly hosting the annual Chris Seabridge Associates farm walk on 22nd June, 7.00 pm, at Bagots Park Estate, WS15 3ER

The Estate covers over 850 acres of predominantly arable land, with diversification into a micro (Freedom) brewery and a thriving commercial shoot. The farm is in Entry Level Stewardship and also has a Woodland Grant Scheme. With over 20 acres of recently-planted woodland, which has enhanced conservation and sporting interest, the estate is ensuring that future generations will still see this beautiful countryside at its best.

Agriculture is facing many economic challenges and at the same time is asked to deliver outcomes for the environment. This farm walk is an opportunity to see how a successful business has utilised agri-environment schemes for environmental, agricultural and sporting benefit.

The Whitegrove Trophy (Farm Conservation) is kindly sponsored by Staffordshire & Birmingham Agricultural Society. The competition asesses how environmental management is successfully integrated alongside commercial farming.

Chris, Nigel and Jane have submitted two bids to Natural England for support to create farmer groups in priority local areas, the catchment of the Blithfield Reservoir near Uttoxeter and the Lonco Brook catchment near Newport, Shropshire. If we are successful with the bids group members can gain extra points for Countryside Stewardship applications that are aligned with biodiversity and water quality objectives in the catchments. They will also be able to access training on relevant topics, as decided by the farmers themselves since both groups will be farmer-led.

Severn Trent Water and South Staffordshire Water have supported the bids and are keen to work more closely with farmers in these designated Drinking Water Safeguard Zones.

Jane James has joined forces with Chris and Nigel, working part time with Chris Seabridge and Associates. After leaving Harper Adams Jane started her career in the family farming business, specialising in pig husbandry, before joining the National Rivers Authority and the Environment Agency where she worked on town and country planning as well as permitting and agricultural policy. She left the EA in 2011 and now works as an independent agricultural and environmental consultant. FACTS qualified and a member of CIWEM, she brings experience of environmental regulation of farming, especially intensive agriculture, as well as a broad knowledge across farming and a background in sustainable development.

The Whitegrove Trophy

On 4th November, Andrew Roberts was presented with the Whitegrove Trophy at the Staffordshire and Birmingham Agricultural Society Annual Awards Dinner.

J & J Roberts run a 390 ha, mainly arable enterprise based at Clive farm, Pattingham near Wolverhampton. Basis trained, Andrew does all the on-farm agronomy and has a keen interest in farmland birds encouraging several pairs of lapwing to breed on the holding.

The award is given annually to the farmer in Staffordshire who, in the opinion of the judge, has done most to encourage conservation on his/her farm alongside commercial activity. The winner receives a prestigious lapwing trophy together with £200 prize kindly sponsored by the Staffordshire and Birmingham Agricultural Society.

If you interested in entering the 2015 competition, please contact us.

Presentation of the Whitegrove Trophy
From left to right; Roger Owen, Natural England (judge), Nigel Baskerville, Sarah Roberts, Andrew Roberts and Chris Seabridge