Arable Reversion at Somerden Farm

Photo by Ray Firminger

Sam Thomas, Landscape Scale Project Officer at Kent Wildlife Trust, writes for us about the East of Eden project he is leading on behalf of the Trust.
Biffa Award

The East of Eden project, funded by Biffa Award, is aiming to reverse the decline in grassland, wetland and woodland habitats in river catchments across Kent's network of Local Wildlife Sites. Three months into the project, the team of staff and volunteers has been busy running surveys, training workshops, and getting stuck in with practical work.

Arable reversion

Our most recent excitement came as we completed the first stage of an arable reversion project at Somerden Farm, slap bang next to the River Eden; a priority watercourse and Local Wildlife Site.

Working with the farmer, Heathdown Partners, almost 3 acres of former crop-land has been re-sown with native species-rich meadow mix. A nursery crop of chamomile, cornflower and poppies will be succeeded by lowland meadow species such as cowslip, ox-eye daisy and ragged robin. When established, this will provide vital habitat for bees, butterflies, grass snakes and a whole host of mammals, amphibians and birds. Besides this, the field will act as an important buffer to the River Eden, slowing pollutants, silt and floodwaters.

Arable reversion

After our initial contact though a workshop run by the Trust, we have been working with Heathdown Partners for several years, developing a good working relationship. Previous successes include the creation of farm ponds, enhancement of lowland meadows and help with agri-environment schemes that benefit both the farming community and our natural environment.

This latest habitat creation project began with a survey of a weedy, difficult arable field on the banks of the Eden. The results yielded little botanical interest so the farmer topped the field to control the rampant creeping thistle. More weed control followed as the hardy thistle returned, clearing the field for ploughing and harrowing. The late warm weather spell gave us a perfect opportunity to get the meadow mix into a fine seed bed and we now await the emergence of the nursery crop in spring.

This work couldn’t have been done without the labour, machinery and goodwill of Heathdown Partners. (Even the most enthusiastic helper would struggle to prepare 3 acres of ground for seed by hand!) This achievement truly demonstrates the value of collaboration with the farming community to restore the Kent countryside.