News and blog News stories [16.02.21] Grants up for Grabs for Somerset Farmers Farmers are being invited to bid in Somerset’s biggest ever auction for works to reduce flooding, boost agriculture and improve the environment. The auction will run online from Monday 1 March to Monday 15 March at somerset.naturebid.org.uk. The event is being organised by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest (FWAG SW) for Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) and Bristol Water. Cllr David Hall, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority, said: “This will be our fourth online auction and this year farmers are being offered a choice of up to 12 different measures, more than ever before. “The aim is to help slow the flow of water down to vulnerable areas while delivering other benefits. Moves like grassland slitting and subsoiling, for example, don’t just aerate the ground and let more rain filter in, they also improve the soil. “So farmers are being asked to think about win-wins. If there are simple things that can be done that benefit everyone, grants may be available.” Total funding available this year is £60,000, the biggest sum yet, with £40,000 coming from the SRA, and £20,000 from Bristol Water. Bristol Water’s money is reserved for two areas. The first is within roughly four miles of Westbury-sub-Mendip and includes Chewton Mendip, Wookey, Wedmore and Cheddar. The second is the Egford Borehole catchment north of Nunney near Frome. Bristol Water especially wants to reduce the amount of soil and nutrients running off into watercourses and reservoirs. Cleaner water lowers reservoir treatment costs, and is healthier for wildlife. The online system works by letting farmers pinpoint places on their land where they believe selected activities would get good results, then they bid for funding. After the auction closes, bids get checked by FWAG SW. Grants from the SRA and Bristol Water are given to the best, most competitively-priced ideas. Matt Pitts, Catchment Strategy Manager at Bristol Water, said: “Collaborating with farmers, Somerset Rivers Authority and FWAG SW makes perfect sense. By working together, we can make a much more impactful positive contribution to the local environment. If we can keep water cleaner naturally at source, then there’s the potential for a real benefit to not only wildlife, but in reducing the intensive water treatment process.” The 12 measures for which grants will be given this year are: Grassland subsoiling, Grassland slitting, Maize management, Hedge planting, Hedge planting on banks, Lines of tree planting, Leaky dams, Buffers to intercept run-off, Winter cover crops, Grass swales, Filter fences and – only available in the Bristol Water areas – watercourse fencing to help improve water quality and livestock’s safety. Holly Purdey, of Horner Farm in Porlock Vale, urged farmers to participate. She said: “Thanks to a couple of winning bids in previous auctions we’ve been able to plant nearly 1000 metres of new hedgerow for better field layouts. It’s now easier to manage rotational grazing, keep soil healthy and minimise water run-off. “The online auction system is simple to use, with clear guidelines provided. Support from FWAG SW is available if you need it.” At the other end of the county, Richard Masters, of Sharpshaw Farm in Nunney near Frome, said: “It took just a few minutes to place my bid online. The money I received meant I could better manage my ground, a win-win for us and the environment. I would recommend giving it a go.” The auction covers the length and breadth of Somerset, with one limitation. As the main purpose of natural flood management (NFM) activities in Somerset is to slow the flow of water down through the higher parts of river catchments, the online auction system at somerset.naturebid.org.uk will not allow farmers to place bids for most of the low-lying land in Internal Drainage Board areas. The only exception this year – because of Bristol Water’s involvement – is the chunk of the Somerset Levels near Westbury-sub-Mendip. Holly Purdey’s hedge (planted with funding in 2020) / Richard Masters’ Maize Harvest (funded in 2020) NOTE TO EDITORS: For more information, or to arrange interviews, contact FWAG SW Communications Officer Ellen James (Email: [email protected]) or SRA Communications Manager Jonathan Hudston (Mob: 07768-392184 / Email: [email protected]).