We have an exciting opportunity to set up a new group in the Churnet Valley through Natural England’s Facilitation Fund. The fund supports farmers, foresters and other land managers who want to work together to improve the natural environment at a landscape scale, including protecting priority habitats and reducing pollution and flooding. Many such groups have already been set up across the country and members typically learn habitat management techniques and identification skills, share knowledge and expertise, and explore avenues to access further funding. By communicating and working together they can ensure that any applications to agri-environment schemes offer greater benefits than would a piecemeal approach, and are more likely to be successful.
A requirement of the scheme is that applications must be accompanied by supporting signatures from prospective group members. Group members don’t get any direct payments, but this also means you are not committing to making any changes, just attending workshops and meetings that will benefit your land management activities. The group is also a great way to network and make contacts. We know that many landowners in the Churnet Valley are not primarily farmers; this can bring challenges in managing land, but it could also make for a lively and diverse group with many skills and experiences to share.
If you would like to know more or suggest activities such a group could focus on, contact Jennifer Thorp of Natural England on 0208 026 1247 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ann Cantrell of Farmercology consultancy email@example.com who is currently pulling together a training plan. The application window is tight due to delays with approval of the scheme, and the application must be submitted to Natural England by 14th November. If we are successful, there will be opportunities to further “grow the group” if you are not in a position to join initially, but the more land managers we can get behind the bid the more likely we are to win funding.