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Video transcript: Trialling land management plans at Aqualate Mere, Staffordshire

Wojtek Behnke

Welcome to Aqualate. I'm Wojtek Behnke, the estate manager. 

Richard Maryniak

I'm Richard Maryniak, and I'm the business lead on the latest test and trial that we're running.


Aqualate Mere is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and Ramsar site in Staffordshire, a catchment area of 5,000 hectares. The estate, which is the owner of Aqualate Mere, has been in the family for over 200 years. There was always a connection between the community locally and the estate, and we're trying to build back those relationships with an environmental focus.

So today we're moving the cattle. The catchment itself has a whole range of different farming systems from dairy, beef, poultry through to salad growing on the more commercial soils, cereal growing, potato growing

So we have quite a diversity of farmers within the group, all with different business models.

There's a lot of potential for what we can do here, for landscape recovery, for biodiversity, and we wanted to be part of that conversation.

Our first project was about seeing if we could get a group of farmers together to design a landscape management plan and individual holding plans, and what resources would be required, setting some priorities like biodiversity, water quality, carbon sequestration and how we would bring all of those aspects together. 

This is woodland that did feature as part of our first test and trial. 

We got the group of farmers together, we formed subgroups, and those subgroups designed land management plans for their holdings, as well as for the whole catchment. We looked at scenarios - if I put a hedgerow there, and if I put a pond there, and if I grew this crop or cover crop there - how would all that connect up to improve biodiversity, water quality. 

And that process involved a mapping system, which the farmers were really keen on, a visual representation of the land where they could see how opportunities could be connected together, wildlife corridors, etc.

Guy Malpass

I'm from a family farm only 5 minutes down the road from here. This is quite a new undertaking for Defra, and they were changing the way that they were forming these policies and they wanted input from the people it was affecting the most. So it was a chance to see if we could have had some effect upon the decisions made at Defra, not only to make it work better for us, but of course better for them. 

I mean, if it works for everybody, it's going to be a far more successful scheme.

Richard Hooper

I farm 400 acres on the Aqualate estate as a tenant. I’m very passionate about farming in

an environmentally sensitive way, and do whatever I possibly can to improve the environment, to improve biodiversity and help all the flora and fauna in the area. You know, we’re next to a triple SI, so I feel it's a real responsibility to be doing that as well.

We've already got a group of farmers as a group in the catchment. It just seemed a really logical step when the test and trial came along to be involved  with that. 


In our first test and trial, the first finding was the role of the facilitator to help the group to deal with, not only the data challenges of pulling together all of the information, such as mapping, natural capital, ecosystem services, and all of the reports that might be required on all of those holdings in order to properly assess that natural capital and those ecosystem services.

Then there's the standardisation of things like soil assessments and carbon audits, someone to facilitate, hold all that piece together, for the entire group, and ideally someone that has some level of gravitas with Defra or the RPA, or whoever the organisation is going to be,

that can represent the farmers as a group directly and say, actually, no, we're trying to achieve this, and someone that can also represent the point of the funding streams that might be available coming forward from private sector or public sector for more infrastructure or whatever it might be within the catchment group. So someone who already knows what demands there are from the various farmers for planting trees or whatever initiatives are agreed on, and will be able to represent the farmers in those commercial situations.

But in order to do that, we need that commercial agreement, we need to understand what that commercial agreement looks like, which is where we progressed into the next test and trial.

In this field, we've got chicory, yarrow, different types of clover, a few different types of grasses too, bird's-foot trefoil is this yellow one here, granny's toenails. Yeah, and it looks very brown, but there's a lot of green underneath that brown, and we'll be bringing the stock in here next to benefit from all of this, but this has had a good 2 months of rejuvenation and you can hear the insect life, you see the butterflies.

Oliver Scott

I’m the Farms Director on the Bradford Estates, we're looking at more sustainable farming practices. The collaboration is hugely important within the Aqualate group because it allows us to share ideas, there are failures and there are successes which we're able to share amongst the group.

I think it’s massively important, the land management plan, because I call them our natural capital plans, it allows me to take every farm, looking at it as it is today, and adding stuff to see what it looks like in the future because, if I'm going to be measured, I’m going to be measured on these sorts of things.

Doing the hard work now of measuring hedgerows, counting trees, looking at different schemes on each individual farm that I've got puts me at the forefront of being able to make the most of whatever schemes come forward.