SRA Annual Report 2019-20: Online Natural Flood Management (NFM) auctions

In early 2019, Somerset farmers were invited to bid in an online auction for grants from Somerset Rivers Authority. 147 bids were successful across 26 different farm holdings. Works were carried out later in 2019, although some activities had to be postponed because the weather was too wet.

In Somerset’s online NFM auctions, farmers are given a choice of natural flood management measures to bid for.

In 2019, these were:

  • 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
  • aerating soil to increase the amount of rain that can filter into the ground

Somerset Rivers Authority provides the money for the grants to carry out these works.

The auctions are 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 – indeed the UK – the first online auction for NFM works was held in summer 2018, in the Somerset catchments of the River Parrett and River Tone. Sixty-four bids were successful.

The online auction held in early 2019 was expanded to cover the whole of Somerset, excepting only the lowest-lying areas where there is less point trying to slow the flow of water. (It makes more sense to slow the flow down to the Levels). In this second auction, 26 farmers and landowners made 147 successful bids for a share of the total £35,000 available.

All bids were assessed by the Farming & wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest (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.

Farmers say the system is quick and easy to use, with very little paperwork. Part of its appeal for all concerned is that 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.

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

2019-20 auction activities

Better maize management

Water running off from compacted maize ground can contribute to localised flooding. Problems can be minimised by encouraging the infiltration of water through soil. Useful techniques include drilling and cultivating fields with a winter cereal or ryegrass, after maize has been harvested. Establishing green cover helps to intercept rainfall and protect the soil surface.

Note that for ease of reading many separate bids have been amalgamated into total hectarages.

Parrett catchment

In the River Parrett catchment, grants were given for maize management on a total of just over 235 hectares. Some farmers have land dispersed in different places. 2019-20 places were:

Brympton D’Evercy and Merriott, Leaze Farm, Dodham Brook and Broad Stream, 23.27 hectares (ha)

Bower Hinton Farm, near Martock, Wellhams Brook, 13.27 ha

Seavington St Mary, Hurcott Farm, Lopen Brook, 9.36 ha

Fiddington, Peadon Farm, Stogursey Brook and Fiddington Brook, 8.53 ha

Huntham, Meare Green Farm, West Sedgemoor Main Drain, 9.76 ha

Otterhampton, Beere Manor Farm, Fiddington Brook, 12.95 ha

Bawdrip, Beere Manor Farm, King’s Sedgemoor Drain, 23.5 ha

Cheddon Fitzpaine, Pyrland Farm, Allen Brook (Maiden Brook), 2.55 ha

Durston (Slough Court), Tone catchment, 29.78 ha

North Curry (Slough Court), West Sedgemoor Main Drain, 21.21ha

Huntham (Slough Court), West Sedgemoor Main Drain, 17.19 ha

Stoke St Gregory (Slough Court), West Sedgemoor Main Drain, 4.06 ha

Stathe (Slough Court), River Parrett, 18.05 ha

near North Petherton (Quantock Farm), Petherton Stream, 12.37 ha

Clavelshay (Quantock Farm), Petherton Stream, 29.59 ha.

Tone catchment

In the River Tone catchment, grants were given for maize management on a total of nearly 76 hectares. Some farmers have land dispersed in different places. 2019-20 places were:

Blagdon Hill, Woodram Farm, Sherford stream, 9.595 ha

Fulwood and Sweethay, Canonsgrove Farm, Sherford Stream, 6.94 ha

between Hoccombe and West Leigh, Higher Chapel Leigh Farm, Halse Water, 13.7 ha

Fitzhead (Higher Vexford Farm), Halse Water, one field of 10.7 ha

near West Monkton (Quantock Farm) River Tone 14.9 ha

near Creech St Michael (Quantock Farm) River Tone 10.7 ha

near West Monkton (Quantock Farm), Allen Brook (Maiden Brook) 9.05 ha.

Tone and Parrett catchment

Walford Cross (Slough Court), River Tone downstream of Taunton and Parrett, 13.43 ha

Frome catchment in Somerset

One place: Nunney, Sharpshaw Farm, Nunney Brook source to confluence with Mells River, 22.46 ha (less than bid for because the weather was so wet).

West Somerset streams

Two places:

Dunster, Lower Marsh Farm, between Sea Lane and the River Avill Flood Relief Channel, 7.29 ha

Higher Vexford, Higher Vexford Farm, Doniford Stream, 41.2 ha

Hedge planting

Two places, both in Somerset West and Taunton, which were:

Horner, Horner Farm – 550 metres of hedge planting, River Aller

Skilgate, Hendover Farm, near Haynes Down Plantation, Ben Brook, 450 metres of hedge planting

Grassland sub-soiling

Very wet weather made ground conditions unsuitable for grassland sub-soiling in autumn 2019, so all grants were carried over until autumn 2020. Places where work is now due to be carried out later this year are:

River Tone catchment

Lydeard St Lawrence (Courthills Farm), Back Stream, 10.06 ha

between Cothay Manor and Langford Budville (Lower Cothay Farm), Upper Tone

and also between Nynehead and Milverton(Lower Cothay Farm), Hillfarrance Brook, in total 38.66 ha

Stour catchment

Near Wincanton, New Park Farm, Cale river, 53.718 ha

West Somerset Streams catchment

 near Boarpath Wood between Lower Vexford and Lawford (Courthills Farm), Doniford Stream, 7.5 ha

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