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Wensleydale Ian Cairns leading a session on soil health

Working with farmers: Wensleydale Facilitation Fund group review

Can farmer cluster groups work?

Lessons learnt from the Wensleydale Facilitation Fund group

The Wensleydale Facilitation Fund group was set up as part of the 2017 Northern flood round of the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund following Storm Desmond in 2015.

The Wensleydale Facilitation Fund group was set up to improve knowledge sharing and provide training in farm practices aimed at improving Natural Flood Management (NFM). The group also focused on how NFM can be delivered in conjunction with positive land management for landscape, biodiversity and water quality.

The group started with 29 members, and 5 farmers joined since. The first group meeting was held in May 2017, to discuss the programme management and delivery, including forming a steering group. Representatives from the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (YDRT), Dales Farmer Network (DFN) and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) introduced Natural Flood Management (NFM) measures plus grant and advice support available.

The steering group comprised of 4 farmer members, the facilitator and representatives from the YDRT and DFN.

The group liaised regularly with the Upper Wharfedale, Swaledale and Lunesdale Facilitation Fund Groups, to agree ways of joint working to share expertise and training delivery. The group agreed their main aims were to:

  • Consider land management and capital works that can help deliver NFM
  • Explore Countryside Stewardship (CS) priorities and funding that can help deliver NFM, and management for priority habitats and species
  • Work with the ‘Yorkshire Dales Catchment Partnership’ to improve water quality
  • Provide sufficient information to help inform/influence future funding allocations e.g. agri-environment grant schemes, Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency
  • Identify what services farmers provide/can provide to help downstream communities recognise the value of ‘buying in’ to NFM carried out on farmland upstream

The whole Group met annually and the steering group met 2/3 times per year with ongoing communication. 18 group events were held between May 2017 and Feb 2020 focussing on:

  • Soil health & management on-farm events
  • Countryside Stewardship (CS) workshops
  • NFM Farm Plans
  • NFM measures (levels 1 and 2) farm walks- leaky dams, hedgerows, ponds, low earth bunds, woodlands
  • Wensleydale ‘Payment by Results’ and National Trust ‘Payment for Outcomes’ farm walks
  • Managing rush encroachment and land for breeding waders
  • Herbal leys
  • The Farm Carbon Toolkit

Additionally 23 Countryside Stewardship applications were endorsed to receive the 20% uplift on their scores and follow up 1:1 advice and support for 10 Countryside Stewardship applications provided by the Farm Conservation Team at the National Park Authority.

In Bishopdale members are receiving extra funds for delivery of NFM measures on the ground through the Environment Agency funded Bishopdale NFM Project delivered by the YDRT.

What did we learn?

Strengths and opportunities

  • Group working with neighbours/peers
  • Social aspect to meetings
  • Good range of events
  • Joint delivery with other cluster/facilitation fund groups in the wider area
  • 20% uplift for Countryside Stewardship applications
  • Influencing schemes such as Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs) being developed by DEFRA
  • Support available through existing/new partnerships

Weaknesses and threats largely linked to limitations and rules of the Facilitation Fund scheme including:

  • Time consuming administration
  • Agreeing changes to the programme was difficult- the members needed time to digest how the group could work and what they could achieve
  • Lack of delivery opportunities within budget
  • Unable to provide follow up 1: 1 support
  • Lack of recognition that farming practices and thus time availability from the members across country varies throughout the year
  • Focus on NFM
  • Due to limitations in how the fund could be spent, the budgets were well underspent

Independent/3rd party facilitator is key:

  • Neutral who isn’t involved with local politics/issues or sensitive agendas (free of baggage)
  • Has the trust/respect of the farmers/land managers or can build this up (trusted member of the local community)
  • Able to share/convey as much relevant information in the right way

Recognition that it can take a while to build up trust and enable effective group working

How to get bums on seats:

  • Involve key locally respected farmers/landowners
  • Encourage farmers to encourage their neighbours/friends
  • Include a social element to the meetings/events e.g. breakfast meetings/tea & cake/supper. Include family friendly activities e.g. moth traps
  • Bring in speaker who grabs their interest.
  • Location of events- community venues, pubs, farm based (farmers love to wander around another farm!)
  • Consider time limitations, days of week and time of year- one size doesn’t fit all

Going forward what are the benefits of setting up a farm cluster group?

  • Peer to peer influencing and learning
  • Independent trusted/respected facilitator
  • Can include a social element to the events/meetings
  • Reduced costs such as for consultants and training
  • Potential delivery of environmental enhancements across several adjacent holdings
  • Members encouraging their neighbours/friends
  • Added incentives for those working and delivering in clusters- this is likely to be key for Tiers 2 and 3 within ELMs

There are some useful resources available on the below website for those considering forming a farm cluster including more case studies from across the UK, monitoring wildlife, potential funding sources and how to engage with local communities.

Please do feel free to contact Hannah Fawcett from the YDNPA Farm Conservation Team for an informal chat about her experiences from the Wensleydale and Lunesdale Facilitation Fund groups, both of which ran May 2017-March 2020. 07818 048750