SRA End of Year Report 2017-18: Land Management (W2)

This workstream is led for Somerset Rivers Authority by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SW. In total this year, FWAG SW advisers have made more than 300 SRA-funded farm visits. Their focus has largely been on three strands: capital grants offered to farmers and landowners for Natural Flood Management projects that ‘Slow the Flow’ of water and reduce flooding risks across the county; soil husbandry to reduce surface run-off; and ‘highways referrals’ – that is, looking for answers to highway flooding problems in better management of land nearby.

Forty-one Natural Flood Management grants have been approved by the SRA this year. Thirty-one used the final tranche of the £550,000 earmarked for this workstream in 2014 from the Heart of the SW Local Enterprise Partnership Growth Deal Fund. Ten used money from local partners (council tax and contributions from Somerset’s Internal Drainage Boards). There is usually a time-lag between grants being approved and work being done at sites by contractors. This is why (in the next paragraph – ‘Achieved’) the number of schemes completed during the year is different to the number of applications; also some schemes get more than one grant, for different elements.

Natural Flood Management schemes

Achieved: 17 Natural Flood Management schemes have been completed (using 29 grants). They are listed alphabetically, mostly by the nearest sizeable settlement.

An aerial view of some the SRA-funded works at Brompton Ralph in West Somerset.

West Somerset: 1) Beggearn Huish, Huish Farm – Washford catchment: installation of cross-drain in gateway, ditch clearance leading to gateway, silt trap, cross drains, bund, new ditches, to reduce road and footpath flooding; 2) Brompton Ralph, Manor Farm, Hillfarrance Brook, Tone catchment: cross-drain and leaky pond; 3) Compartment 28 and Tim Wood, upstream of Roadwater, tributary of Traphole Stream: woody dams; 4) Crowcombe, Hurley Farm, Doniford Stream and tributary of Doniford Stream:- leaky woody dams and bankside scrapes to lower floodplain and increase storage near Leigh Mill Bridge, to reduce flooding on Leigh Lane; plus five large woody dams in goyle-like tributary (ravine) of Doniford;

Taunton Deane: 1) Bishops Lydeard, Portman Farm, Back Stream catchment: four leaky dams (gabions) and one leaky woody dam, leaky pond with sluice-type structure and adjustable weir boards; 2) near Hoccombe in Fitzhead parish – tributary of Halse Water, Goulds Farm, Tone catchment: leaky pond and bunded scrape; 3) Marcombe Valley, Hole Farm, tributary of Tone in upper Tone catchment: re-instate boundary bank with timber from nearby trees to slow and filter run-off from bridleway, create a dozen leaky woody dams; 4) Milverton, Bickley Farm, tributary of Hillfarrance Brook, Tone catchment: leaky pond storing up to 5000m3 of floodwater; 5) Nynehead, Hornshay Farm, River Tone catchment: 160m of hedge planting next to Nynehead Road to slow the flow and reduce road flooding; pictured below – Nynehead – text continues after…

Hedge planting at Nynehead funded by Somerset Rivers Authority, as part of Hills to Levels.

South Somerset: 1) Buckland St Mary, Folly Farm, River Ding and River Parrett catchment: multiple small-scale schemes across one farm – bunded scrape, de-silted old lime kiln and flow spreader, restored pond, ditch work, leaky dam, and floodplain scrape, field corner scrape, pair of bunded scrapes, woody dams; 2) Charlton Mackrell, East Somerton Lane, West Somerton Lane, North Boxhill Lane, South Sug Lane, tributary of River Cary: improvement of ditches, installation of gateway culverts and headwalls, to reduce flooding of roads and homes; 3) Montacute, Montacute House, tributary of Wellhams Brook: woody debris dams in Park Covert and at east end of Montacute Park; 4) Odcombe, Orchard Fields, tributary of Wellhams Brook, Parrett catchment: two woody dams, two log-stop sediment traps and pipe trash screen, de-silt pond and install leaky pipe outlet with penstock, clear vegetation; 5) Queen Camel, Camel Hill Farm, Dyke Brook: leaky pond with check-dam sediment trap and leaky pond pipe outlet; 6) Shepton Montague, Higher Farm, River Pitt catchment: installation of pipe, headwall, trash screen, re-grading of track and installation of four cross-drains into ditch, re-jigging of ditch and installation of in- check dams, to reduce road flooding towards Pitcombe; 7) Stoney Stoke, Lushes Farm, upper catchment of River Pitt: temporary water storage pond, tree planting (approx 4000m2 – pictured below), woody dams; 8) Yeovil (Brympton parish), Lufton Manor College, Wellhams Brook, Parrett catchment: major pond de-silting, woody dams, new penstock; text continues after photo of Stoney Stoke…

Tree planting at Lushes Farm near Stoney Stoke, funded by Somerset Rivers Authority as part of Hills to Levels.

Sedgemoor: 1) Cossington, Cossington House Farm, Cousney Rhyne: installation of new culvert with headwalls and increased capacity in receiving ditch, to stop road flooding.

Soil husbandry

Being achieved: Investigating and encouraging better soil husbandry to reduce the run-off of surface water has become a more important part of this workstream. Keeping their soil in good health also brings obvious benefits to farmers.

This year, half-field cultivation trials have been carried out on five farms to assess effects on infiltration, run-off and soil structure, as well as crop yield.

The farms involved were: West SomersetBrompton Regis (Ruglands Farm), Luxborough (Westcott Farm), Beggearn Huish (Huish Farm); Taunton DeaneCroford, near Wivelisombe (Castle Farm); SedgemoorNorth Newton (Newcotts Farm). Work has included testing methods such as arable and grassland sub-soiling and following these up with the monitoring of infiltration rates, run-off and sward height.

Trials have also been run of different varieties of cover crop, and their effects on infiltration. Cover crops are grown more to improve soil health and manage soil erosion than for the harvests they yield. They are planted over the winter to maintain ground cover and reduce run- off. Trials of cereal-based and legume-based mixes on one farm allowed FWAG SW and the farmer to compare effects on soil erosion. The farm was West Yeo Farm near Moorland in the Sedgemoor district.

Other activities this year have included running a soil discussion group, holding small events with farmers to discuss and publicise interesting matters such as trial results, and researching a Maize Charter. Moving towards good practice with maize-growing is particularly important because of the high risks of soil erosion and soil structural issues associated with a late- harvested crop. Providing advice about how best to select sites, and how best to harvest and manage fields post-harvest, will help to reduce the risks of run-off over winter months.

The Hills to Levels YouTube Channel features three very informative and useful new videos, filmed in Somerset with local FWAG SW Resource Protection Specialist Jo Oborn, exploring Soil Compaction and Infiltration issues and giving masses of advice.

Highway flooding visits

Achieved: 41 Highways/Lead Local Flood Authority referral follow-up visits by FWAG SW. The purpose of these visits is to see whether capital schemes of work, or land management changes, could bring about improvements at places with flooding problems. Many different outcomes are possible. At some places – for example, Charlton Mackrell (South Somerset), Cossington (Sedgemoor) and Crowcombe (West Somerset) – talks have led to successful applications being made to the SRA for Natural Flood Management grants and works being done. More details of schemes at the three places just cited are given in the paragraphs above about NFM grants. The lists below show places visited in different districts.

West Somerset: Carhampton (Eastbury Farm), Crowcombe (Hurley Farm), Luxborough (Chargot Estate), Monksilver, Old Cleeve (Binham Farm), Roadwater, Stogumber (Rexton Farm);

South Somerset: Barrington (Bonnings Lane), Charlton Mackrell, Compton Durville (Meadowlea Farm), Curry Rivel (Northwing Nursery), Fivehead (Swell Court), Haselbury Plucknett (Rushywood Farm), Lopenhead (Meadowlea Farm), Marston Magna (Easton Farm), Martock (Bower Hinton), North Cadbury, Odcombe, South Petherton (Frogmary Green Farm), Whitestaunton (Northay Lane), Wigborough (Wigborough Manor – application proposed for SRA grant), Yeovil (Ashington); Taunton DeaneAsh Priors, Combe Florey (Pit Pear Farm), Cothay (Elworthy Road), Luckham Bridge (Bickley Farm), Lydeard St Lawrence (Nethercott Lane), North Curry (Lillesdon Court Farm), Wellington (Tone Dale), Wiveliscombe (Pyncombe Lane – final inspection visit after SRA-funded roadside land stabilisation works);

Sedgemoor: Cannington (Swang Farm), Charlynch (Gothelney Farm), Cossington (Bell Lane), North Newton (One Tree Farm/ Brook Street), North Petherton (Dancing Hill, Quantock Farm), Wedmore (Plud Streeet);

Mendip: Binegar Bottom (where an SRA grant application has been approved for two scrapes and bunds to hold back rapid run-off and reduce Gurney Slade road flooding), Cranmore and East Cranmore (Merryfields), Critchill on the edge of Frome (Sharpshaw Farm), Vobster Cross to Hatchett Hill (Lydes Farm – no signs of run-off seen). A field was also visited in Upton Noble.

Over the border in West Dorset consultation visits were made north of Sherborne (at Patson Hill – River Yeo catchment) and to Leigh (Drummers Farm – Yeo catchment).

Other activities

Other activities have included:

  • mapping Natural Flood Management and flooding hotspots to help decide which farmers and landowners to approach;
  • developing delivery in new areas (Somerset Frome, Cale, Pitt, Upper Stour catchments);
  • supporting the National Trust’s Porlock Vale Streams project in West Somerset (part of the Trust’s major Riverlands initiative), and exchanging experience and information more generally with the National Trust. Places of current mutual interest include the Holnicote Estate, Washford, Monksilver and the Doniford Brook.
  • FWAG SW is also involved in a PhD monitoring project with Bristol University. Data being collected from Natural Flood Management structures funded by the SRA will help to create computer models that can evaluate the effects of Natural Flood Management at catchment-scale. This is potentially a very significant piece of research, because one of the debates about the value of Natural Flood Management in the past has been about the geographical spread of its impact.

Hills to Levels

Hills to Levels: In March 2018, at the Environment Agency’s major Flood & Coast Awards for Project Excellence, Hills to Levels won the first Duncan Huggett Award for the Environment.

Also in March, Hills to Levels was selected as a finalist for the 2018 UK River Prize, in the category ‘Catchment-scale project – Demonstrating a whole river approach to restoration’. (At the River Restoration Centre Annual Conference in April, Hills to Levels won the UK River Prize).

Hills to Levels began life in 2015 as a collaboration between FWAG SW, Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT), the RSPB and the Royal Bath & West Society. Given two years’ funding by the People’s Postcode Lottery, the project’s aim was to help Somerset farmers to manage their land more effectively in times of heavy rain so as to ‘slow the flow’ from high ground to low and thereby better control flooding. The project has long been backed by the SRA, first using HotSWLEP Growth Deal money, and more recently funds from Local Partners.

Agreement has now been reached between the SRA, FWAG SW, RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Royal Bath & West Society that the SRA should become a key partner of the Hills to Levels brand, now that funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery has run out.

This means, for example, that Hills to Levels will feature more on the SRA’s forthcoming new website later this year. Regularly-updated information about Hills to Levels can also be found on FWAG SW’s new website.

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