Flooding chaos and the coronavirus pandemic have triggered big changes on a coastal farm in Norfolk. Judith Tooth reports.

Challenging year is catalyst for L

ooking up the field on a still summer day, it’s hard to imagine tor- rents of water rush- ing downhill, tearing deep rifts and gulleys

into the light stony soils at Deepdale Farm, Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk. But back in February, that’s exact- ly what happened: heavy rainfall fell on already saturated fields. And with nowhere else to go, the run-off turned into a river – and rushed straight into the house of an elderly lady. A few months earlier, the field had

been inadvertently drilled with tram- lines going down the slope, rather than across it. And when the soil started to erode, the Norfolk Rivers Internal Drainage Board was called in to car- ry out emergency works But further storms hit as designs

for a flood mitigation scheme were be- ing drawn up. Jason Borthwick, the farm’s managing partner, was soon left staring at culverts two metres deep. Then came the coronavirus pandem- ic, forcing the closure of the farm’s re- tail and tourism complex. Remarkably, though, there was a

silver lining. For Mr Borthwick and estate man-


ager Nathan Nelson the twin disasters of flooding and Covid-19 were a cata- lyst to make big changes – and an op- portunity to gather ideas. Just a few months later, those changes are tak- ing shape.

Suddenly the bits of the jigsaw came together

Mr Nelson says: “We had the wet-

test February in 10 years, and the wet- test January in seven. But they are no longer freak events. We knew we need- ed to build longterm resilience against floods and droughts, to be able to deal with both extremes.”

The drainage board introduced the two men to the Norfolk Rivers Trust. Zac Battams, the trust’s water sensi- tive farming adviser, was soon asked to get involved. “Nothing was off the table,” he says. “There was a refresh- ingly open-minded approach from the get-go.”

Ed Bramham-Jones, the trust’s head of farming and water, offered practical help and advice on how to avoid losing more soil and water from the farm. Part of the plan was to keep

A large pond to catch run- off may be repurposed as a wildlife pond.

the water on the land to infiltrate and support the aquifer recharge. Two broad sediment traps were dug across the field, each with a series of check dams – to slow the flow of wate – topped with new hedging, with a large pond at the bottom of the slope. The pond was full to the brim in March and empty in April.

Expert advice Funding for trust’s Water Sensitive Farming initiative comes from the WWF Coca-Cola Freshwater Partner- ship and the WRAP Courtauld Com- mitment 2025. It operates at a catch- ment scale, mainly in the Broadland

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