Partnership Case Study - Eden Rivers Trust 

Eden Rivers Trust

"We see this mapping as being an additional string to a farmer's bow, so in due course they will be able to sit down with their dairy company, for example, and say we've done all this work and we can tick your boxes" 

- Andy Dyer, senior farming and conservation manager

A pioneering project is helping 50 farmers in the River Eden catchment area measure and evaluate the amount of natural capital assets on their land, with a view to being financially rewarded for its management in the future. Eden Rivers Trust senior farming and conservation manager, Andy Dyer, has worked with Kings technical advisor, Ed Jones, to help farmers in the region map the vital ecosystem services on their land.

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Farmers within the River Eden catchment, which stretches from Yorkshire to the Solway Coast in Cumbria, are leading the way in measuring the natural capital value of their land.

Eden Rivers Trust – which, as part of its water-friendly farming work, provides advice and support to those in the River Eden catchment area on a wide range of conservation matters, is involved in a Landscape Recovery test and trial project as part of Defra’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

The two-year project, which is currently in its second year, is looking at how data, technology and physical farm walkovers can be used to log and map the natural capital assets on farmland.

Eden Rivers Trust senior farming and conservation manager, Andy Dyer, says the idea for the project started pre-Covid when the organisation began looking at the concept of natural capital mapping.

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“The direction of travel we were being pushed in by Defra, as they began to develop the new Environmental Land Management schemes, suggested we needed to begin to evaluate natural capital on farms.”

Andy adds, “We were keen to use technology alongside traditional walkover methods to quantify a current and future financial value for natural capital features. This will be highly beneficial, not just for farmers, but for river conservation charities such as Eden Rivers Trust too. It will provide us with valuable data that will open up more opportunities to work collaboratively to enhance and create new natural capital features with existing and new partners, building on our existing natural flood management (NFM) and river restoration work to improve and protect Eden’s rivers.”

“Ed Jones from Kings and his colleague Jim Egan very kindly got involved in the initial discussions with our two main farmer groups – mainly to get people thinking a bit more about what assets they had on-farm and how we could make more use of them in any new schemes.”

 

These initial discussions led to the Trust working with Kings and its sister company and Frontier’s precision farming division SOYL, to successfully bid for the opportunity to carry out the Landscape Recovery test and trial project.

Project details

The Trust has reached its target of recruiting 50 farmers or landowners located in the Petteril, Lowther and Leith sub-catchments of the River Eden for the project.

The first year involved carrying out physical farm walkovers to map natural capital assets, such as hedgerows or grass margins, on each farm.

The organisations then worked with the farmers and landowners to help them use SOYL’s MySOYL mobile app to build on that data.

Explaining how it works, Kings advisor Ed Jones says: “The app uses your phone or tablet data and GPS so you can go out and record what you’ve got on the farm – whether that’s an area being put down to a certain management action or a length of hedgerow, for example.

“You can record that area and build up a map of exactly what natural capital you have.”

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He says though that the project has gone one step further, with the environment manager tool within MySOYL also being used to incorporate all the data into an interactive map. This can then be enhanced with the addition of extra information such as condition scores for the natural capital assets and yield data.

Ed continues, “Environment manager also allows you to compile the information from these farms together, so Andy and his team can look across the catchment to see what natural capital farmers have collectively.

“I believe having all this information mapped, recorded and securely stored puts the group of 50 farmers in Andy’s region ahead of 50 farmers elsewhere in the country.”

Future goals

The second year of the project will focus on two areas – trying to ascertain the value of these natural capital assets and providing farmers with a map of them.

Andy explains: “This year we are taking all the data and handing it over to a professional team of valuers who will then start to evaluate and monetise the benefits of each natural capital asset.

“That could be value in terms of carbon, landscape character, habitat, NFM or the animal health and welfare that walls and hedgerows, for example, provide by giving shelter to livestock in this climate.”

The maps will be provided to the farmers and landowners involved in the project in return for them providing match-funding for the initiative.

Andy says, “We are being told by Defra that at some point we will need a land management plan for each farm; which would involve the mapping of all of the natural features that are present.

“We now have that information and MySOYL allows us to put all the data together and produce a natural capital map. The plan for the second year is that farmers will buy into the data and on the back of that they will get their land management plan, which they’d otherwise either have to produce themselves or go into the commercial market to purchase.”

 

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Wider benefits

Both Andy and Ed believe mapping natural capital assets will be vital for farmers and landowners as they look for extra income streams in the future.

Ed says: “Farmers are currently looking at where they can seek additional funding; wherever you are in the country, costs are increasing, and people are looking for third party finance in one way or another.

“The only way you are going to get that is by proving that you’ve got these natural capital features, that you are managing them effectively and that you’re showing an improvement or maintenance in their condition.”

He adds: “Consumers are really keen to physically see that what they are paying for is having the environmental impact that they want, whether that be with bird numbers or water quality.

“Farmers should measure their natural capital now before the big markets open up – measure and manage it in the same way that you would with your crops or your livestock.”

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Andy says having a farm’s natural capital assets mapped and properly recorded will also be beneficial for farmers when they interact with their buyers – such as milk processors.

He says, “We see this mapping as being an additional string to a farmer’s bow, so in due course they will be able to sit down with their dairy company, for example, and say we’ve done all this work and we can tick your boxes.”

 

The MySOYL app is available for any farmer to use for free by registering online, with the enhanced environment manager option available to for an annual fee of £350. More information is available here

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