Updated 2 April
Farmers across Somerset made well over 100 bids in the county’s biggest auction yet for works to help stop flooding.
Bids are now being checked. In the past this process has involved farm visits but this year – because of the coronavirus pandemic – detailed conversations are being held over the phone and more use is being made of photographs, maps and other data.
The auction ran online from Wednesday March 18 to Monday March 30 at www.naturebid.org.uk, following successful trials funded by Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) in 2018 and 2019.
This year the SRA, Environment Agency and Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest (FWAG SW) offered farmers a choice of up to seven different methods of natural flood management (NFM). These included hedge planting, better maize management, and grassland subsoiling and slitting (pictured above on Exmoor).
Better maize management was this year’s most popular category.
All measures help to slow the flow of water, while delivering other benefits. For example, grassland subsoiling and slitting aerate the ground so that more rainwater can filter in, and they also improve the soil.
All that farmers had to do to take part was visit the NatureBid website, choose one or more NFM methods, select areas of their land where they believe those methods will get the best flood prevention results, then bid for funding. The total available this year is £40,000, the biggest sum yet.
After bids are verified by FWAG SW, grants from the SRA and Environment Agency are given to the best, most competitively-priced ideas.
“Give it a go!”
Cllr David Hall, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority, said: “One of the key points recognised in Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan, which was drawn up during the major floods of 2014, is that what happens on the land is really important. Every field, every farm, every stream has a part to play when it comes to managing water.
“The SRA has funded hundreds of natural flood management measures across Somerset through the award-winning Hills to Levels project, but online auctions mean we can do much more. Last year 200 bids were successful.
“It’s a system that cuts out paperwork and saves time and money. It lets farmers use their knowledge of their land to pinpoint places where between us we’ll get results. I say – give it a go!”
The one proviso is that 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 website will not allow farmers to place bids for land in low-lying Internal Drainage Board areas, or in areas which drain out of the county. Otherwise it covers the length and breadth of Somerset.
“A win-win for farmers and local communities”
Neil Davies, Director of Future Funding at the Environment Agency, said: “We all need to value the environment and encourage investment to improve it. We developed the NatureBid website to allow farmers to put forward ways in which they could manage their land to improve the environment and reduce flood risk. This is a win-win for farmers and local communities.”
Richard Masters of Sharpshaw Farm in Nunney near Frome got a grant for better maize management in last year’s auction. He said: “The online auction tool was quick and simple to use. I was able to achieve what the farm needed with the grant money and I’m really pleased I took part.”
John Quick of Quantock Farm between West Monkton and Clavelshay also secured a grant for better maize management in last year’s auction. He agreed with Mr Masters: “The online auction was really quick and easy to use and allowed us to achieve a lot with our maize ground, without all the paperwork of other environmental schemes.”
NatureBid technology has been developed by the Environment Agency with the Sylva Foundation at Oxford University. Following Somerset’s initial trial in 2018, it is now being increasingly used across the country.