SRA Annual Report 2018-19: Natural Flood Management online auctions (W2)

The UK’s first online auction for natural flood management works was held in summer 2018, in the Somerset catchments of the River Parrett and River Tone.

This went so well that in early 2019 a second online auction for natural flood management works was run across the whole of Somerset, excepting only the lowest-lying areas where such works would have less point.

The software used was developed by the Environment Agency with FWAG SW, Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative and the Sylva Foundation at Oxford University.

Somerset Rivers Authority provided the money for the grants that farmers and landowners bid for. In total, over the two auctions, this was more than £65,000.

Both auctions were reverse auctions. In conventional auctions, bids go up until the highest one wins. In reverse auctions, the victors are those who submit lower bids.

In Somerset’s online NFM auctions, farmers were given a choice of natural flood management measures to bid for. These included planting crops that stop soil being washed off fields during the winter, after maize has been harvested; planting hedges to slow the flow of water; and aerating soil to increase the amount of rain that can filter into the ground.

In the first auction, 63 bids were successful across 14 different farm holdings. Better maize management and hedge-planting were most popular, followed by grassland sub-soiling, soil bunds and leaky ponds, and leaky woody dams. All bids were assessed by FWAG SW to make sure they were feasible and cost-effective. FWAG SW advisers later inspected all works to make sure they were carried out to a good standard.

In the second auction, which was widened to include the catchments of the River Axe and River Brue, 147 bids were successful across 26 different farm holdings.

The system is still new, but the signs are that it has several strengths. It cuts out paperwork. It saves time and money. It draws on farmers’ and landowners’ unrivalled knowledge of their own land. Using maps inside the online auction system, participants can pick out bits of their land where they believe that NFM activities will produce the best flood prevention results for them and for local communities.

Farmers agreed that the system was easy to use – and got results.

Anthony Gothard, a Stoke St Gregory farmer who won grants in both auctions, said: “It only took me a few minutes to place my bid online and there wasn’t any paperwork. I’m really pleased with what I’ve been  able to achieve with the grant money.”

Sam Passmore of Manor Farm, Otterhampton near Bridgwater, who successfully bid for a better maize management initiative in summer 2018, said: “Being encouraged to implement measures which will improve our soil health as well as limit the risk of environmental damage, when combined with a financial incentive, should be seen as a win-win situation for us.”

Successful auction bids from first auction

Better maize management includes techniques such as drilling and cultivating fields with a winter cereal or ryegrass, after maize has been harvested. Water running off from compacted maize ground can contribute to localised flooding. Encouraging the infiltration of water through soil can minimise runoff problems. Establishing green cover also helps to intercept rainfall and protect the soil surface.

Parrett catchment

In the River Parrett catchment, grants were given for maize management on a total of 159.3 hectares.

Places were:

  • Bower Hinton Farm, near Martock, Wellhams Brook
  • near Walford, seven fields between the A38 and the M5, Parrett catchment
  • North Petherton, Haddon Farm, Petherton Stream
  • Cannington College, Rodway Farm, River Parrett
  • Fiddington, Peadon Farm, Stogursey Brook and Fiddington Brook
  • Otterhampton, Manor Farm, Fiddington Brook

There were also successful bids from Bower Hinton Farm for two leaky woody dams and a 24-metre soil bund, from Barrington, Hill Farm, Westmoor Main Drain for 215 metres of hedge planting and 50.5 metres of hedge planting on bund, and Rodway Farm at Cannington for 21.9 hectares of grassland subsoiling.

Tone Catchment

In the River Tone catchment, grants were given for maize management on a total of 51.1 hectares.

Places were:

  • Wellington, Bryants Farm, Westford  Stream  (fields just south of Wellington and Chelston)
  • Trull, Canonsgrove Farm, Sherford Stream
  • Meare Green Farm, near Stoke St Gregory, River Tone
  • North Curry (including fields at Huntham and Knapp), River Tone catchment

There were also successful bids from Greenham, Lower Cothay Farm, Upper Tone for 46.9 hectares of grassland subsoiling between Cothay Manor, Kittisford and Wellisford, and from Wellington, Bryants Farm, Westford Stream for 18.6 hectares of grassland subsoiling.

Also near Wellington, in the catchment of the Upper Tone, Pinksmoor Farm bid for 40 metres of hedge planting on a new bund on the outskirts of Holywell Lake. This planting – featured on BBC Points West – has filled a gap in the lower corner of a field. It will help to stop localised flooding. FWAG SW say this is a great example of hedge planting on a bund; they are “very pleased” with it.

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