What we do Current projects Gloucestershire Farmer Guardians of the Upper Thames Early October 2017 saw a visit to a FWAG SouthWest project in the Cotswolds, showcasing the successes of the Farmer Guardians of the Upper Thames work on land resilience and flood prevention to the Chief Operating Officer for Natural England, Guy Thompson. The visit was covered in both the Western Daily Press and Farmers Weekly. Since storms such as Eva and Desmond hit rural northern England in 2015, the governments flood prevention strategy needed re-evaluating. As part of these revisions, £7.2m was invested in Natural England’s Countryside Stewardship facilitation fund, to encourage the farmers and local land managers to use a range of measures to better protect their communities from the devastating effects of the flooding. The farmer lead collaborations of the Farmer Guardians of the Upper Thames, chaired by local farmer Richard Rumming, focuses on the communities at risk of flooding by covering 16,000 hectares, from the river’s source at Kemble to Cricklade in Wiltshire, aiming for methods of long term environmental improvements. Many positive outcomes have emerged from this particular initiative in the Cotswolds, including increased biodiversity and wildlife habitats such as woodland, improved water quality and healthier soil as well as natural flood management to reduce flood risk. A key factor in the growing successes of the fund is down to the farmers collaboration; they meet on one another’s holdings to discuss the priorities and share knowledge, as well as lessons learned in order to organise new and forward thinking approaches to flood management. FWAG SouthWest senior conservation adviser Jenny Phelps MBE has aided as a facilitator for this process, bringing farmers, land managers, agencies and communities together in order to share their learning. Surface and ground water protection is a strong focus for the group; “they are looking at soil health, organic matter, soil biology, water attenuation as contributory to sustainable farming and reducing diffuse water pollution from agriculture… [aiding in] ecological recovery” says Jenny. The visit to the group from Guy Thompson was to raise awareness of the facilitation fund, in the hopes that highlighting these successes will encourage more farmer groups to consider applying for funding during this application window. Guy Thompson was impressed by the work in the Cotswolds, saying “We have witnessed at first hand the benefits to the environment when farmers are part of the planning and implementation of these types of partnerships”, “it’s recognition of the great work these types of projects are doing in building resilience in terms of flood risk and bringing other benefits”. Natural England is providing funding of £1.7m for another 20-30 groups to form as a result of the 2017 application round. The applications for the facilitation fund is now closed (as of 14 November 2017). However, for further information please contact us, or visit GOV.UK.