New strategy to revitalise soil Working

together (l to r): Deepdale Farm estate manager Nathan Nelson, managing partner Jason Borthwick, Norfolk FWAG adviser Henry Walker, and Ed Bramham- Jones and Zac Battams of the Norfolk Rivers Trust.

r change

Rivers and Cam and Ely Ouse catch- ments.

The farm is in the River Burn

catchment. Mr Bramham-Jones says: “While the flooding didn’t affect the riv- er directly, from a catchment point of view we don’t want diffuse pollution going into freshwater drainage ditch- es, and the marshes, which are incred- ibly valuable habitats.” Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advi- sory Group adviser Henry Walker sug- gested suitable environmental man- agement options under Countryside Stewardship. Abacus Agriculture con- sultant Stephen Briggs advised on the potential for agroforestry and organ- ic production. The search for ideas continued more

widely too.

“It started with reading Wild- ing [by Isabella Tree] and then Gabe Brown’s Dirt to Soil,” says Mr Borth- wick. Then he joined the community created through Land Management 2.0 – a knowledge sharing network set up earlier this year.

Action plan

“It led to many fascinating conversa- tions and has been hugely supportive. >>


Work to revitalise the farm includes protecting and enclosing cultivated areas against erosion, improving soil organic matter – as well as en- hancing biodiversity benefits. Some 100ha of flower rich margins are be- ing established using locally sourced seed. Bee- tle banks have been located to break up large fields and positioned across slopes to slow the movement of water. Bird seed mixes are being established on a further 20ha, with 8ha of cultivated fallows maintained on some of the stoniest and poorest ground where rare arable plants can thrive. The plan is also converting to organic production. Stephen Briggs says: “A more diverse mosa- ic of crops and land use, with cover crops and grass clover leys, and without the use of pesti- cides, alongside a wide range of conservation strategies and practices through Countryside Stewardship, will all boost biodiversity.” More diverse cropping will encourage im- provements in soil health and structure. So too will the increased use of cover crops, leys and green manures. Tillage intensity and frequency will be reduced and there will be no use of synthetic nitrogen, fun- gicides or herbicides.

“Organic conversion meshes well in the short term with the vision for the

Right: The farm’s Countryside Stewardship agreement means a chance to rest the light stony soils. Below: Cover crops will help improve soils and boost biodiversity.

farm,” says Mr Briggs. “Agroforestry may come later, and can bring other longer term benefits including carbon, shelter, income and so on.” Baseline surveys have been carried out by

staff at the neighbouring Holkham National Nature Reserve. Wildlife populations will be monitored and soil test as part of an overall management plan drawn up by the Norfolk Rivers Trust to measure improvements. Ed Bramham-Jones says the end result will be well worthwhile. “Looking back at this pro- cess, it’s been an exemplar of what can be done when ideas and skills are brought together in an open and collaborative partnership,” he says.

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