The Value of Working Wetlands (WOW) is a two-and-a-half-year project, working in England and France to develop sustainable wetland management. The goal of the WOW project is to deliver long-term, sustainable solutions in the management of wetlands, to ensure healthy wetland ecosystems, while supporting the rural economy and recognising the importance of food production.

On both sides of the channel our wetlands are becoming impoverished and fragmented and the wildlife they support is struggling to survive. This comes at a time when we are beginning to understand how vital wetlands will be in helping people and wildlife adapt to future climate changes.

The project has a farmer-centred approach which aims to build resilience and sustainability into farm businesses. The focus will be on production to provide financial profitability, while safeguarding environmental resources such as soils, water and wildlife habitats.

Somerset Levels and Moors

The WOW project supports farmers across the Somerset Levels & Moors by helping them to make the most of their wet grassland, maximising the benefits to farm businesses, wetland wildlife and the local rural economy.

The project is delivered on the Somerset Levels and Moors through a partnership with Natural England, the Drainage Boards, RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust and FWAG SouthWest. John Leece and Abigail Vickery are working for FWAG SouthWest as dedicated Farm Liaison Officers (FLOs). Their role is to support farmers in undertaking remedial management of wet grasslands. They can also provide individually tailored advice to farmers who are experiencing problems, including helping to identify practical solutions to land management issues.

Support Offered by the Project

The FLOs can help Somerset Levels & Moors farmers in the following ways:

  • Help with grant applications (Environmental Stewardship, Catchment Sensitive Farming, etc).
  • Assistance with interpreting and managing Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship agreements.
  • Help with derogations for capital works and identifying early grazing opportunities.
  • Work with landowners to identify issues on their land (e.g. rush infestations) discussing options and a way forward.
  • Putting farmers in contact with contractors (e.g. ditching, weed wiping).
  • Acting as a contact point for landowners, liaising with Natural England Advisers, Internal Drainage Board, RPA, Environment Agency, etc.
  • Helping to create farmer links, where landowners can share knowledge and best wetland farming practice.
  • Organising training to share good management practices (e.g. guttering presentations), and setting up sites to demonstrate and trial management techniques.
  • Healthcheck visits, where FLOs can offer advice on a range of topics such as land management, cross compliance, soil and water protection, habitat restoration, etc.

Future Work

Other elements of the project include:

  • Grassland sward assessments, and studies of the best way to combat encroaching and invasive species such as rush.
  • Economic studies of Somerset Levels and Moors farm businesses, including investigations into alternative revenue streams.
  • Developing a series of farmer links where knowledge of the best wetland farming practices can be shared.
  • An ongoing programme of farmer events and workshops.
  • Monitoring of land conditions, to effectively chart changes in land-use, biodiversity and landscape that will allow the effect of the project to be assessed.
  • Winter bird surveys and Spring breeding wader surveys of SSSI sites.

Flooding on the Somerset Levels & Moors

The spring and summer flood events of 2012, and winter flooding of 2013/14, have had a profound impact on these areas. The unprecedented rainfall has made keeping the balance between the needs of farming businesses, wetland wildlife and water protection increasingly difficult.
These major flood events indicate that farm businesses are highly vulnerable to weather-related shocks of this nature. The increasing likelihood of further extreme weather events, which is predicted as one of the impacts of climate change, will only add to the tensions experienced in the last couple of years.

The WOW project is well placed to support farmers in the recovery from last year’s flooding and can offer specialist advice to farmers on the management of their wet grasslands.

If you would like to find out more about the project or get access to any of the downloads associated with it, please email [email protected]