A match-funded £5,000 grant scheme from water company Severn Trent is helping three farmers protect and enhance the environment.
The Severn Trent Environmental Protection Scheme (STEPS) helps farmers improve water quality and soil health by providing a range of options that encourage infrastructure investment and good land management.
Third generation mixed farmer John Cantrill farms 212ha with some land in Higher Level Stewardship near Bridgnorth, Shropshire. He runs a herd of 200 fattening Limousin-cross cattle and a small flock of sheep on tack each winter.
“The scheme helped us to build a new sprayer washdown area, which makes daily operations easier and protects water,” he says.
“First of all, we tackled the sprayer shed and filling area, by building a roof and flooring, with a bio-filter system to clean any washings or pesticide spills. We then added in a rainwater harvesting system, which allows us to use recycled water to wash down.”
Following this, Mr Cantrill set about stopping his cattle getting into the brook and poaching the surrounding area, to reduce the chance of nitrates and cryptosporidiosis contaminating the water.
“We put in 198m metres of stock fencing around the brook, as well as new drinking troughs, pipework and hardstanding. Not only is the water now noticeably clearer, with less erosion to the banks, it’s far easier for us to move stock around.”
Elsewhere in the region, brothers Alex and Josh Spink, who farm around 300ha in Nottinghamshire, are working to minimise nutrient leaching and protect soil structure on two sites with two distinct soil types.
It is the second, tenanted farm, which is very sandy with one side running down to the River Poulter, for which they have taken advantage of STEPS funding. Over the past three years, they have used the grant to grow cover crops to help prevent nitrates from reaching the river and improve soil structure and quality.
“The blow-away sand can be quite a problem at times and we’d already started to look at how we could use spring-planted cover crops with our agronomist when a leaflet came through about Severn Trent’s grant options,” says Alex.
Josh adds that the STEPS funding meant they made far quicker progress with cover crop trials and understanding of how to use them than if they had done it alone, aiding them to act now, not in the future.
“We’d have probably tried cover crops on one or two fields annually and it would have taken several years longer to get to where we are now.
“But STEPS funding allowed us to try cover crops on a larger scale with minimal financial risk, as the grant covered seed purchase and drilling costs which totalled at £60/ha.”
Alex explains that before planting cover crops, fields drilled with carrots near the road would suffer significant run-off in wet weather and sand plumes in dry weather. Now the cover crops are in, these issues have been alleviated, with the crops reducing the amount of cultivation and subsoiling required.
Severn Trent agricultural adviser Phil Billings has been supportive from the start, says Josh. “Phil’s passionate about farming. He wants to make things work for Severn Trent as well as the farmer which is right – no one would do it if it didn’t work.”
Such positive results were also seen for Rugby based farmer, Gordon Robson, whose farm, being in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ), puts water quality at the top of the agenda.
Mr Robson used the STEPS grant to install livestock fencing around a running ditch that flows into the River Leam, helping to keep the ditch clear and prevent flooding.
“The fencing has stopped our herd of Beef Shorthorn Cattle accessing the ditch. It sounds simple, but this has led to lots of other benefits. Our local Severn Trent agricultural adviser, Marion, introduced us to the scheme and helped us apply.”
The scheme is open for applications until 31 January 2021. For details, visit www.stwater.co.uk/steps