Farming for clean water
Farmers across England explore new practices to improve water quality.
Producing food and preserving water quality don’t always go together. That’s why farmers in three river catchments across England are set to trial new farming practices that could boost the quality of crucial water resources. Their input will play a key role in the Demonstration Test Catchments programme, accredited by Living With Environmental Change, that aims to pinpoint ways of protecting rivers and groundwater from crop nutrients, pesticides and livestock wastes. Policy makers, water companies, the farming industry and consumers could all benefit from the findings.
The programme is co-ordinated by Bob Harris from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who says
''this is the first time the problem of pollutant run-off and leaching from agricultural land has been investigated in an integrated way at the whole-catchment scale to such an extent.''
The Eden in Cumbria, the Wensum in East Anglia and the Avon in Southern England will each host monitoring programmes designed to establish whether innovative agricultural techniques could safeguard water ecosystems without compromising agricultural productivity.
Baseline data is now being collected on the impact of current farming operations on water quality in the three catchments. A range of new farming practices – perhaps including use of buffer strips between rivers and productive land, and the better targeted use of nutrients – will then be introduced and evaluated.
With government, regulators, researchers, industry and local communities all collaborating, this initiative will deliver an unprecedented understanding of how river catchments actually function. And of course, the contribution of the farmers themselves will be absolutely pivotal.
Tim Carson of Manor Farm in Alton Barnes is taking part in the Avon study.
“This initiative has got to be a good thing,” he says. “I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges.”