14 ways for Somerset farmers to win grants

Somerset farmers are invited to bid in a revamped auction for works to reduce flooding, boost agriculture, and improve the environment.

The event is being organised by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest (FWAG SW) for Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) and Bristol Water.

The funding available is £60,000, with £40,000 coming from the SRA, and £20,000 from Bristol Water.

The auction will run online from Monday 14 March to Monday 28 March at https://somerset.naturebid.org.uk

The auction is the sixth to be held since 2017 – and this year there is one big change. The focus this year is on the upper and mid-level catchments of the Axe, Brue and Frome rivers within Somerset, and the upper and mid-level catchments of rivers and streams within West Somerset. The River Parrett and River Tone catchments are not included, to avoid duplication with the Somerset Levels Catchment Market being run by Wessex Water’s EnTrade.

Cllr David Hall, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority, said: “Auctions funded by the SRA were first held only in the Parrett and Tone catchments, and that is where they have been most popular over the years. Now that Wessex Water is funding dozens of nature-based projects in that area, we want to encourage farmers in other parts of Somerset to make the most of the opportunities they are being offered.

“This year farmers have a choice of up to 14 different improvements to bid for, more than ever before.

“Hundreds of hectares of land, and many local communities, could benefit from activities that help to reduce flooding and improve farmland and the environment.

“I strongly urge farmers to get involved and give it a go.”

How it works

The online system works by letting farmers pinpoint places on their land where they believe selected activities would get good flood management results, then they bid for funding. After the auction closes, bids get checked by FWAG SW. Grants from the SRA and Bristol Water are given to the best, most competitively priced ideas.

The 14 activities

The 14 natural flood management (NFM) measures for which grants will be given this year are:

  • Maize management (an example from Sharpshaw Farm in Nunney in 2021 is pictured at the top of this page)
  • Grassland subsoiling
  • Grassland slitting
  • Flow Spreaders
  • Grass buffers to intercept run-off
  • New grassed shallow ditches (grass swales)
  • Cross-slope hedge planting
  • Cross-slop hedge planting on banks
  • Restoration/enhancement of existing cross-slope hedgerows
  • Cross-slope woodland planting
  • Leaky dams
  • Offline storage ponds
  • Filter fences
  • and – only available in the Bristol Water areas – watercourse fencing to help improve water quality and livestock’s safety.

As the main purpose of NFM activities in Somerset is to slow the flow of water down through the higher parts of river catchments, the online auction system at www.somerset.naturebid.org.uk will not allow bids to be made for most of the low-lying land in Internal Drainage Board areas. The only exception – because of Bristol Water’s involvement – is the chunk of the Somerset Levels near Westbury-sub-Mendip.

Bristol Water funding

£20,000 from Bristol Water is reserved for two areas, around Westbury-sub-Mendip and near Frome. These areas are highlighted in green on the map below.

The first area is within roughly four miles of Westbury-sub-Mendip and includes Chewton Mendip, Wookey, Wedmore, and Cheddar. The second area is the Egford Borehole catchment north of Nunney, near Frome. Bristol Water especially wants to reduce the amount of soil and nutrients running off into watercourses and reservoirs or leaching into the ground. Cleaner water lowers water treatment costs, and is healthier for wildlife.

Matt Pitts, Catchment Strategy Manager at Bristol Water, said: “We’re really looking forward to participating in this auction alongside Somerset Rivers Authority, FWAG SW and local farmers again this year.  By working together, we can do much more for the local environment – we can help create better habitats for our wildlife and for people to enjoy, and at the same time have cleaner water in our lakes and rivers. This is a win-win for wildlife and our customers.”

Farmers’ views

Ben Hutton, of New Manor Farm in Witham Friary near Frome, urged farmers to participate. Last year Mr Hutton got grants for maize management and grassland slitting. He said: “It took just minutes to place my bid online, and in return I’ve been able to make farm improvements which have had a really positive environmental impact. I would definitely not miss out on this opportunity.”

David Cotton, of Bridge Farm near Glastonbury in the Brue river catchment, last year got a grant for grassland subsoiling. Mr Cotton said: “Entering the auction to bid for support towards grassland subsoiling was a simple process. Liaison with the FWAG SW team was excellent and with the right weather conditions we achieved the outcomes desired by myself and the catchment team to reduce over winter run-off. An exercise that I would happily do again.”

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