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East Devon Farmers Group was established in 2016 to help guide a 5yr farm facilitation programme in the heart of East Devon AONB.
The group comprises 54 farmers, whose land covers over 3,900 hectares and by developing co-operation amongst the land managers and connecting individual farms, the programme aims to increase the standard and scale of conservation management throughout the area and beyond.
The Countryside Stewardship (CS) facilitation fund supports people and organisations that bring farmers, foresters, and other land managers together to improve the local natural environment at a landscape scale. This landscape scale approach can cover land under existing agri-environment and forestry/woodland agreements, common land and land not currently covered by a scheme. It builds on the principles of partnership working to deliver environmental benefits, as demonstrated by various initiatives, including farm clusters and the farmer-led Nature Improvement Area.
The project was formally launched by Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Defra Select Committee. It has established a steering group comprising of local farmers from dairy, beef, sheep and lifestyle sectors. These are supported by a facilitation team comprising officers from FWAG South West, the Devon Greater Horseshoe bat project and the East Devon AONB team. The group is chaired by former NFU regional policy officer and AONB Chairman, Mike Ellingham. The steering group has helped develop priorities for the group to develop around.
To date, the group has run 12 events offering a variety of formats and topics on a one to many basis. We have run Mid Tier Stewardship workshops and support sessions which have encouraged and supported 11 members to apply to agri-environment schemes in our first year that is 20% of the members. Workshops have included Manure Management and Grassland Soil Compaction aimed at tackling water pollution and run-off issues within the Facilitation area. A getting Value from your Hedgerows session which looked at the economic, woodfuel and wildlife potential of farm hedges, this also included an equipment demonstration. Farm walks have also proved popular. Our farmer led steering group has requested activities beyond the original environmental remit which we are delivering with local experts.
This Group is the focus for the Princes’ Farm Resilience Programme which we are supporting providing business advice to family farms to improve their viability and long term future.
So far we have learnt the importance of having nurtured strong links with our farming community and the importance of listening to the needs of the people who manage our outstanding landscape.
Quote from project manager
“The facilitation fund offers a really positive tool for farmer engagement and an opportunity to develop new initiatives beyond the stewardship programme.”
Quote from participant
“Getting together helps identify common needs and problems and potential joint initiatives to solve them.”
Key search words: Farm, farming, stewardship, collaboration, landscape scale, biodiversity,
Photo Credits: East Devon AONB Partnership – Farm walk and Grassland soil compaction workshop.