Poor riparian habitats are one of the limiting factors for many fish and invertebrate species in the Severn Uplands Management Catchment, which includes the Camlad – a WaterLIFE Demonstration Catchment. This has a direct impact on the reporting and quality of many water bodies, as both fish and invertebrates are monitored to assess Water Framework Directive (WFD) ecological status. The most common cause of habitat degradation in the Camlad is overgrazing: which restricts trees and bankside vegetation from developing and causes heavy ground poaching. Poached riverbanks are a source of sediment in rivers, which smother gravels and carry attached phosphates and nitrates from fertiliser. Excluding livestock from watercourses also prevents faecal matter entering the water – another cause of WFD failure.
The Severn Rivers Trust (SRT) identified farming landowners in the Camlad as the main stakeholder when it came to improving riparian habitats. WaterLIFE enabled SRT to engage and work in partnership with a local Farming Connect Rural Hub– a group of farmers that comes together to share ideas on local farming issues. The SRT Catchment Officer ran a workshop in conjunction with the Hub about the WFD status of the Camlad catchment, and how farmers could work with SRT to implement improvements.
It was clear from this workshop that the main engagement appeal to landowners was that a WFD Good Ecological Status was likely to reduce involvement of the Regulatory Authorities in the area’s farming practices. This was a useful insight for SRT. As a non-government agency, they were able to form “honest broker” trusting partnerships with landowners, and could identify where changes to farming practice could be made.
In total, 48 landowners were approached and all bar one allowed the SRT’s Catchment Officer to undertake a watercourse walkover survey of their holding. Landowners identified that they needed a means of reducing grazing pressure that was not only cost-effective to their business, but was also low maintenance and did not create extra labour hours or cost. Stockproof fencing to exclude livestock from water courses was the obvious solution.
At first, many of the landowners were reluctant to put in place the required fencing for two reasons: loss of grazing area and therefore potential profit; and extra work due to damage that may be caused by flooding.
After discussions between the landowner and the Catchment Officer, individual plans were created for each section of watercourse. In total, the SRT undertook 4,590 metres of riparian fencing in the Camlad catchment, across 8 different farm businesses. Working in partnership with the landowners created a step change in the attitude of the business owners towards watercourse fencing, as these two examples show:
• One landowner was initially reluctant to engage, but is now working towards all watercourses on their farm being fenced. The owner said “the management is much easier now for two reasons: moving livestock is much easier and the cattle are not covered in mud”.
• Another landowner commented that, “the fencing has added value to the land”. This is important to a farm business as the landholding is their greatest asset.
These are lessons learnt that can be transferred to any landowner engagement situation.