We joined the cluster because farming sustainably is really important to us and we wanted to find out more and share ideas. The cluster has been great for getting to know other farmers, especially as we are relatively new to farming in this area of Kent. We’ve also learnt a lot about species found on other nearby farms and we are now monitoring species on our farm much more closely. The support and guidance of Kent Wildlife Trust has been invaluable.”Ramstile Farm, near High Halden. Members of the Upper Beult Farmer Cluster since November 2019.
Our Farmer Cluster is a group of adjacent farmers and land managers working together to share skills, experience and explore more sustainable approaches to farming and stewarding the land. Helped by a facilitator, Rory Harding, landowners and farm managers across the catchment of the river Beult, a river which starts to the west of Ashford before entering the river Medway at Yalding, are able to benefit economically from working collaboratively to deliver greater benefits for soil, water and wildlife at a landscape scale - creating the Upper Beult Farmer Cluster.
The river Beult’s upper catchment was identified as an important area to work with farmers, due to the high levels of pesticide pollution recorded in the river. This river is an important feature threading its way through the diverse low weald landscape including arable land, pasture, woodland, hop gardens and orchards.
Pesticides are routinely used in both arable and mixed agriculture, with negative consequences for both terrestrial and aquatic insects. Farmers are also increasingly aware of the financial costs of chemical inputs, and the strain this puts on the biology and soil structure fundamental to healthy crops.
We are therefore working together to promote alternative methods of pest control across the catchment and share experience and knowledge in order to collectively farm more sustainably. This includes actions to improve soil fertility, water quality, habitat connectivity between farms and understanding of the wildlife distribution at a landscape scale.
To date the cluster has a growing membership of 31 individuals representing 16 farms and is exploring applicable solutions to pesticide reduction. Identifying fundable measures to support farmers via the cluster partner, Southern Water. This thorny issue of pesticide use undoubtedly has a huge impact on insect abundance, but we’ve all recognised the need to support learning and change ‘farmer to farmer’ so we can collaborate on whole scale changes in farmland management.
Rory is helping the farmer members to create ambitious targets for the catchment. He is also networking with other NGO’s and related industry, and support the most proactive local farmers to share their trials with other members.
Other clusters have shown that supporting farmers in this way to tackle local issues has far reaching impacts. The Upper Beult Farmer Cluster has the potential to lead to multiple benefits for all partners from improved water quality, more connected wilder landscapes, more sustainable food production and access to collective funding via the future Environmental Land Management scheme.
Although the Farmer Cluster is in its early stages, this project can make a huge difference to insect habitat and forage availability across thousands of acres around the river Beult. We hope creating a template for Kent, will allow more farmer cluster groups to spring up across the county taking action for insects over larger and larger swathes of the landscape.
- 4,457 acres and counting to be influenced for sustainable farming practices and new habitat creation
- 31 individual members representing 16 farms and other businesses, with new ones coming on board
- 10 volunteer surveyors have been recruited to take part in wildlife surveys across the cluster farms when it is safe to do so, enabling the monitoring of species distributions, to create a benchmark to measure future work against
- 59 farmers and members of related industry receive the Cluster newsletter updating them on what’s happening in the area
- Four events expert talks have so far been put on for members on topics from Intercropping to reduce inputs to wildlife surveying techniques
- Nine 1-2-1 Farm visits conducted, to identify opportunity areas for wildlife