Renewed backing for Water Sensitive Farming

East Anglia is home to one of the UK’s most water-stressed areas. A major regional initiative which aims to reverse that decline has started its fourth phase of works.

The Water Sensitive Farming (WSF) initiative aims to reverse the decline of freshwater environments in Norfolk, and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. It focuses on improving soil health and water quality and quantity, and help boost flood risk management, carbon storage, groundwater protection and biodiversity habitat.

Organised by The Norfolk Rivers Trust (NRT) and The Coca-Cola Foundation, the initiative has replenished 2.75 billion litres of water – or around 917 Olympic-sized swimming pools – provided over 300 farmers with one-to-one advice and support, and improved approximately 3,100ha of agricultural land (including cover crops, buffer strips, reduced cultivations and riparian management).

It has crucially improved the health of Britain’s largest protected wetland, the Broads National Park while globally, it has protected rare chalk streams, including the river Wensum Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The fourth phase, which has been identified as one of the four key UK projects to deliver the Courtauld 2030 Water ambition, will:

  •    Replenish 500 million litres of water.
  •    Work with farmers to create a minimum of 20 on-farm wetlands, ponds and silt traps.
  •    Restore stretches of degraded chalk stream.
  •    Implement land management changes including agroforestry and the creation of floodplains and meadows.
  •    Plant at least 1500 trees to stabilise banks and connect existing habitat filter water.
  •    Develop and implement a programme of citizen science monitoring schemes to provide an important source of information and support for understanding and restoring the health of local river catchments.

Rivers Trust spokesman Ed Bramham-Jones said: “The renewed funding commitment comes at a time when farmers are adapting to a post-Brexit landscape, while facing significant changes to financial support and agricultural practices.

The new phase of the initiative is really exciting – we hope to reach new farmers, strengthen our existing partnerships with the agricultural sector and supply chain, recruit and train a team of citizen scientists, and ultimately deliver nature-based solutions for our desperately polluted and degraded rivers.”

Water and the food and drinks industry

Norfolk Rivers Trust will partner with The Rivers Trust (RT) to share best practice with NGOs and policymakers, and encourage collaborative water stewardship action across the entire UK food and drinks chain through the Courtauld 2030 Commitment.

Alex Adam, of The Rivers Trust, said: “Improving our freshwater environment is a huge challenge that requires collaborative action across the food and drink industry. As such, Water Sensitive Farming has been placed as a key delivery mechanism for achieving the aims of Courtauld 2030 – a corporate water stewardship commitment and the associated roadmap towards water security for food and drink supply.

“We’ve already seen other companies including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Asda invest in the initiative, and we’ll be continuing to encourage other key businesses to engage collectively.

“We’re also keen to capitalise on the learnings and experience gained over the partnership by delivering a nationwide training programme for other NGO advisers, as well as engaging with policy makers.”

Jon Woods, General Manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain, said: “Water is our most important resource and is central to improving food sustainability. We are proud The Coca-Cola Foundation has supported the Norfolk Rivers Trust for the last nine years to help local farmers and communities protect, reduce, recycle and replenish water supplies.”

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