Introduction to the project
The Stour Headwaters Project aims to address water quality, flooding and habitat issues in the Upper Stour by working with farmers to adapt land management practices, adapt farm infrastructure to reduce diffuse pollution, and through community engagement and monitoring. The project is led by the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAG SW) and is funded by the Environment Agency's Water Environment Improvement Programme. FWAG have partnered with Dorset Council, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Wessex Water and the Environment Agency on the project.
Farms visits in the headwaters of the Stour offer tailored advice to farmers on soil and water management, river habitat quality and Countryside Stewardship agreements. Some landowners have been eager to progress from simpler advice on soil and water management, up to large river restoration proposals over a few years of engagement.
The project has funded:
Improving river habitats
- Planting trees along the riparian corridor and elsewhere on farms to limit sediment and nutrients entering watercourses after rainfall.
- Fencing rivers to protect river banks and newly planted trees from damage by livestock.
- Reaches of river have been 'daylighted' by removing some overgrown vegetation to allow sunlight to reach the watercourse and improve instream habitats.
- Woody debris dams have been installed to slow the flow of water through catchments and reduce flooding issues.
- Wet habitats such as scrapes have been created on farms, and complex hydrological plans have been drawn up to remove a river from a large culvert and bring it up to the surface in a wet woodland corridor.
Supporting farmers to adopt practices that will reduce sediment and nutrient loss from soils
- Assessing farms and giving advice to landowners on how to improve their practice for water quality, and supporting Countryside Stewardship applications to fund work.
- The project has supported the designing and building of new machinery which can reseed fields without ploughing soils. Events organised with local farmers demonstrated the machinery's abilities and gained volunteers for trials. The equipment is being trialled on various farms and the results will compare soil health to normal practice.
- Events have also demonstrated the benefits of planting diverse swards and herbal leys: improvements to soil organic matter, water infiltration, animal nutrition, less need for nutrient inputs and reduced cultivation requirements, all of which will contribute to better water quality.
Supporting rural businesses
- Employing local contractors, suppliers and experts to assist project delivery at a time when many businesses were challenged due to the pandemic.