Natural Flood Management
An innovative partnership project between Cotswold Seeds and the Cotswold Rivers Trust, was completed at FarmED. The scheme re-routed the running spring to help reduce the likelihood of flooding along the Evenlode Valley and also create a new wetland habitat area for wildlife in the grass field. Simply put, the principle is to capture the flow upstream to prevent flooding further downstream. It is likely that the existing spring at Honeydale Farm was diverted from its original field course at least 50 years ago, to a channel which ran downhill in a straight line along the central hedgerow. This was used as a way to ‘dry’ out the grassland and make it more productive for grazing animals and hay production. Although only a relatively small water flow, the spring runs constantly all year, directly into the River Evenlode. This catchment is known to flood regularly, with a particularly bad flood in 2007 which caused over 50 homes to be damaged in the nearby downstream village of Ascott under Wychwood.
We sought the expert advice of Vaughan Lewis who runs the Company Windrush AEC Ltd, which has a long history of advising and implementing these types of projects. One of the aims is to provide a small scale demonstration of how a watercourse can be improved to reduce runoff and erosion, by holding up the flow of the water and allowing it to be released in a controlled way. The peak flow of water reaching the river is lowered during heavy rainfall, reducing the likelihood of flooding. The scheme created several small leaky dams known as attenuation bunds, connected by short lengths of meandering channel. Water is held back by the bund until the level reaches a perforated stone dam. Once this has been breached the water runs onto the next dam, repeating the process. In this way the amount of spring water entering the river, is reduced. Once water over-tops the final dam it is collected in a shallow scrape where excess will drain away into the subsoil. As well as attenuating runoff, the scheme will reduce the loss of fertilisers and nutrients from farmland into the River Evenlode.
The second part of this project involved planting the final water holding area with about half a hectare of trees, to form an infiltration zone. As the tree roots develop over time they create preferential pathways for water soakage to help excess water infiltrate into the subsoil. In addition trees themselves use up water to help them grow.Increased flood peaks, low summer flows and increased pesticide and fertiliser burdens have all been identified as damaging impacts on the river, which fails to meet Good Ecological Status under the Water Framework Directive. The project addressed all of these issues, albeit on a small scale. In addition it would significantly improve local biodiversity, creating an important wetland habitat for local wildlife. Snipe had already been seen on the newly created scrape area. There is also a significant element of carbon capture associated with the planted trees, which would provide a sustainable and valuable source of firewood in time. Our aim was that the project would be used as an example for visitors such as landowners, land managers and other stakeholders to see techniques in which erosion, runoff and flooding can be managed in a catchment that has a history of flooding, overland erosion and damage to land and property. The expectation is that the principles of the project would be adopted by other landowners in the Evenlode valley and elsewhere in the country.
The project received financial support from the Big Lottery Fund’s ‘Awards for All’, whose support is gratefully acknowledged.
We finished our tree-planting in the first week of February. Tree planters, brothers, Neil and Colin Taylor, planted an area of 2.3 ha with around 6,000 shrubs and trees, including 450 metres of hedging.
The hedging runs along the line of the seeded/arable interface and is predominantly thorn (60%), with the rest comprising guelder rose, wayfaring tree, spindle, dogwood and a small amount of wild crab.
A 5m ride was left between the hedge and edge of the main planting on the eastern and western side, with sinuous lines of planting creating scallops of ground adjacent to the ride which have been left as additional unplanted habitat. There’s also a 5m gap between the roadside deer fence and the edge of the trees.
The backbone of the central section is made up of an average of 2500 trees per ha, consisting of 800 field maple trees, 75 limes, 150 Beech, with birch planted to give some early nursing effect near the Beech areas. At either side of the backbone there are a mixture of 550 hazel, 175 blackthorn and 175 thorn. The outermost rows were planted in clumps of species, using groups of between 3 and 7 of the generally smaller stature plants - 375 Guelder Rose, 375 Wayfaring tree, 150 Spindle, 110 crab apples, 40 wild pears, 225 thorns, 75 dogwoods, plus 110 Bird Cherry and 75 Wild Cherry which are bigger and make a good edge in the field side mixtures. There were 75 Robinia plants in the field side mixture too.
As modern agricultural practices take much of the blame for the 50% decline in farmland birds, we wanted to provide a little piece of bird heaven at Honeydale Farm!
In addition to all of the planting we have done, which in time should provide fabulous nesting sites and food supplies for the birds, the new habitats created by the flood alleviation work, the supplementary feeding, plus the insect attracting seed mixtures due to be sown in the spring, we installed cosy bird boxes around the farm.
We chose the very long lasting Schwegler Woodcrete nest boxes. They come with a 25 year guarantee and are very solid indeed. We bought several different types to appeal to a wide variety of birds from sparrow terraces, swallow bowls, tit boxes to wren ball - an amazing array of luxury bird homes.
Schwegler’s advice is that no minimum distance is required between birds. Two species can breed next to each other on the same tree. Depending on the site, (the more natural the better) and the amount of pests, up to 15 nest boxes per acre can be installed in woods, gardens etc.
We were determined to give the birds every chance to start their breeding season well fed and in good health and by providing just a bit of extra housing for some of them we hoped to give plenty of them the opportunity to rear a succession of large broods of chicks. Our goal was to have twice the number of birds on the farm, back to the pre war numbers.
Historic Tree Planting
We were delighted to welcome around 30 volunteer tree planters to Honeydale. Ostensibly the purpose of the planting was to enhance the natural flood alleviation works, but the event also had an important historical context.
The volunteers were marshalled by the Wychwood Project, a group that encourages people to understand, conserve and restore the rich mosaic of landscapes and wildlife habitats in what was formerly the Cotswolds Forest - the ancient Royal Hunting Forest of Wychwood, within the boundaries of which Honeydale Farm firmly lies.
In medieval times, this was a place where deer were reserved for the King’s use and at Domesday in 1086, the Royal Forest of Wychwood covered much of what is now West Oxfordshire, stretching from the River Glyme to the east, the River Windrush to the south west, the smaller Sars Brook to the north and a section of the Thames to the south. This area would have also included meadows, cultivated open fields, heaths and downs and was one of the most wooded Forests in England. It fell into a gradual decline following the Tudor period, exacerbated by the Napoleonic wars, when timber was in demand for the navy.
The Wychwood Project, which covers all or part of 41 modern day parishes, from Taynton to Woodstock and from just south of Chipping Norton down to Northmoor, aims to enhance the environmental, cultural and historical features of the landscape, working closely with local communities.
As such, its supporters were very enthusiastic about our tree planting and turned out at Honeydale in force. It was a cold but clear day and it was truly heartening to see people of all ages, from all walks of life and from all over the Cotswolds, as well as further far afield such as High Wycombe and Leicestershire, working together. We had it all done within four hours, planting 2000 saplings including alder, hazel, field maple, willow, dogwood and sweet chestnut, which will later be harvested for firewood and to provide poles for hedge laying.
Part of our plans for Honeydale Farm always included beekeeping, and Cotswold Seeds’ Manager, Paul Totterdell, who was keen to be our resident bee man, enrolled on a course with Cotswold Bees, part of the North Cotswold Beekeepers’ Association, which provides training, services and equipment. Paul was asked to bring two items, to a one-day beekeeping training course - a pair of marigold gloves and a pair of wellington boots.
The course took place at the Three Ways Hotel in Mickleton, Warwickshire. Interestingly, there was a high proportion of enthusiasts from London because beekeeping courses there are fully booked. Beekeeping is big in the city, where pollen and nectar sources are greater than in the countryside because there are so many city-dwellers looking to experience a slice of country living in their small but well stocked urban gardens. This says much about the need to increase pollen and nectar sources on agricultural land. Chris Wells of ‘Cotswold Bees’ is passionate about ensuring proper training though, saying “the world does not need more keepers of bees, it needs more beekeepers”. Responsible beekeeping is not as simple as it may seem.
To that end, we spent the morning, after coffee and cake, learning all the beekeeping basics, do’s and don’ts, everything from necessary equipment to bee behaviour, to life-cycle and identification.
After coffee and cake, the students donned beekeepers outfits and headed to one of Chris’ apiaries nearby. For the rest of the day Chris demonstrated how to handle the bees and equipment, including proper use of a smoker, and how to identify different parts to the colony and hives.
All Paul had to do was build some hives and then introduce bees to Honeydale!
The fields where spring barley was formerly grown on Honeydale were ploughed by Nigel Adams, before sowing sainfoin, herbal leys, green manures and experimental seed plots, once we had obtained suitable seed beds and the weather consistently warmed up. We power harrowed and rolled the fields that were to be sown in the spring. But the weather turned dry so we decided not to sow anything till rain was on the horizon.
We planted a strip of barley in each the arable fields, a total area of about 4ha, retaining what was grown on the farm before, and it instantly started chitting.
Sam topped the new wildflower area on what was previously arable land, which often has a problem with grass weeds, especially blackgrass. The blackgrass is an annual so it was hoped that cutting it would control it and stop it shedding seed. The wild flowers in the same area were a mix of perennials and annuals so it was interesting to see whether the cornfield annuals came back. At Cotswold Seeds we are regularly asked for advice about how to manage wildflower meadows and weeds so it was interesting to watch what happened on our own farm.
We’d been planting grass and wildflower margins at the edges of the fields to create pathways to walk around and we also sowed our Dry Land Herbal Ley in one of the arable fields. The seeds were broadcast with a spinner before rolling in. For many years the 11 acre field was used for growing barley, so the soil had been rather neglected and the aim was that the herbal ley, which would be down for 4 years, would help to remedy this. We watched the growth of the different species contained in the ley with much interest. Since there was a water source nearby, the plan was to manage the field with livestock, mob grazing with sheep.
We were hoping to harvest seeds from the sainfoin crop in the polytunnel, so introduced bumble bees to pollinate the plants.
The wildflower field was blooming with cowslips, red clover, tufted vetch, lady’s smock, buttercups, yellow rattle, birdsfoot trefoil, sorrel, hedge bedstraw and bee orchids, growing among the sweet vernal grass, meadow foxtail, and other meadow grasses.
The sheep were grazing well on the lush spring growth, with the lambs growing particularly strongly, along with the ewes.
The repeat breeding bird survey was carried out at Honeydale Farm in April-June 2015, recording a total of 46 species (an increase from 44 in 2014). At least 28 species were found breeding on site, or were very strongly suspected of doing so, compared to 24 in 2015 – a 17% increase in breeding species.
The diversity and abundance of conservation priority species breeding in spring increased from 9 species and 48 territories/pairs in 2014 to 12 species and 54 territories/pairs in 2015 – a 12.5% increase in the abundance of the priority farmland birds.
Three conservation priority species were gained since 2014: Barn Owl, Grey Partridge and Reed Bunting. Two of these gains were a direct result of conservation measures implemented since 2014, namely Barn Owl nestbox provision and creation of wetland habitat for Reed Bunting.
The populations of most other breeding birds increased or remained stable since 2014, although one conservation priority species (Swallow) showed a decline from three breeding pairs to just one. Yellow Wagtail and Cuckoo (also conservation priority species) were observed as probable transients in 2014 but not recorded in 2015.
The total number of bird species recorded on or over the farm in 10 visits during spring and winter in the year between April 2014 and end of June 2015 was 61, including Peregrine Falcon, Barn Owl, Greenland Wheatear, Raven, Cuckoo and Marsh Tit.
A maximum of eight Brown Hares and five Roe Deer were observed, including juvenile hares and a pregnant deer confirming breeding on site.
Camera trapping confirmed occupation of a new Badger sett dug on the southern boundary of the southernmost arable field.
Skulls recovered from Barn Owl pellets collected from under the nestbox showed that the owls had been feeding on Bank Voles and Field Voles, confirming presence of the latter on/around the farm.
The conservation value of the farm showed a distinct increase since 2014, at least some of which was linked directly to the introduction of the conservation measures (wetland creation, nestboxes, and very likely the winter stubbles and fallow land)
The farm retained an impressive diversity and abundance of bird species for such a small (7 fields), inland area with few large trees and no large bodies of water. The key to this appeared to be the rich diversity of farmland habitats, including arable, fallow, meadow, pasture, stubble, and a variety of thick hedgerows, bramble thickets and occasional trees.
Feeding the Birds
In early June we sowed two mixtures of seed bearing species designed to provide overwinter food for birds. The One Year Winter Birdfood is an annual mixture, with triticale, linseed mustard, millet, fodder radish and quinoa. We also planted a Two Year Wild Bird Seed mix designed to stay in the ground for longer. This contains triticale, kale, quinoa and fodder radish, which would provide food over winter. The recent rain was beneficial and both crops were soon doing well.
The crops we planted earlier in the year were all growing well.
The twelve acres of Herbal Ley we planted in May germinated slowly because it had been so dry, but with more rain, it started to flourish. We ploughed and power harrowed the ground, before rolling it to consolidate the seed bed. We then lightly comb-harrowed the seedbed just before sowing to eradicate a flush of weeds, chiefly field madder and sowthistle. The seed was then spun on with a spinner and rolled the same day with a flat, heavy roll. We used Cotswold Seeds’ MIX20 which is a deep rooting diverse ley designed to provide nutritionally balanced grazing on the light thin soil that is typical in the Cotswolds. It is usually used for rotational grasslands, with the aim to improve low organic matter, which would then be put back into arable crops. But we used it to improve soil health, since it includes deep rooting grasses, legumes and forage herbs, and also so that we could study this mixture in depth. The next stages were to graze it lightly in autumn and utilise it properly the following year with mob sheep grazing.
Cotswold Seeds has been interested in sainfoin for many years. It’s a traditional Cotswold crop but it’s popularity has fallen away because of establishment issues and an intensification in agriculture, with higher inputs. Since the Honeydale soil type should be ideal for sainfoin we were keen to get a crop in. It’s been planted with companion grasses, meadow fescue and Timothy, to increase the yield and reduce competition from weeds. It was sown on 4th June, which was quite late, but despite this it established well thanks to the warmer late spring soil temperatures.
The control plots of barley were coming into ear.
One of the remaining fields at Honeydale was sown with a soil improving mixture called Summer Quick Fix (mustard and clover), a short term crop, designed to provide green cover during summer and be incorporated during autumn, with another over-winter crop later sown to improve soil organic matter. The idea for this field was to continuously grow a variety of green crops, with the aim of stimulating the soil biota and increasing organic matter, over a number of years. We planned to monitor the organic matter levels as well as soil structure to see the time frame it takes to improve the health of the soil in a continuous green manure system.
The hay meadow was cut after good growth and produced 83 round bales. Before cutting, we allowed all the wildflowers and grasses to go to seed to keep seeds to perpetuate growth. We spotted yellow rattle, red clover, hedge bedstraw and birdsfoot trefoil. We saw one bee orchid last year but have now counted five. The meadow was to be grazed for sheep later in the autumn to tidy it up.
Improvements to Natural Flood Management
Waterways management specialist, Vaughan Lewis and his team, returned to Honeydale to carry out some improvements, having observed how the natural flood management works had performed so far. They dug deeper into the bottom pond to increase its capacity and introduced aquatic plants, including iris and sedge, to improve habitats.
The ewes and lambs were sheared just before the weather warmed up and were grazing well on the permanent grassland.
On Saturday 15th August we held a Pollinator Day, organised by The Wychwood Project, which attracted lots of attention. Over 50 people came to visit Honeydale.
We looked at the roles of pollinators, their habitats, why these have declined and how we can conserve them. Honeydale Farm's fields of flowers and grasses encourage bees and other pollinators so there were walk and talks, with a presentation by Ian Wilkinson of Honeydale Farm, a beekeeping demonstration by Paul Totterdell, and tour led by Ian and Sam Lane. This was followed by a lunchtime BBQ with local grass fed beef burgers from Ian and Cathy Boyd’s Whittington Lodge Farm near Andoversford.
Water, Woods and Farming Event
Ian Wilkinson gave a talk on the flood alleviation project at Honeydale Farm at the ‘Water, Woods and Farming’ event which took place in Ditchley Park, near Charlbury, on the evening before the annual Forest Fair, organised by the Wychwood Project. The event was attended by around 30 landowners, countryside stakeholders and representatives from organisations including the local water authority and the Environment Agency.
The Cotswold Seeds’ Summer Quick Fix, comprising mustard and legumes had grown well, smothering weeds and creating double the density of a trial brassica mix of radish and mustard.
Bees Arrive at FarmED
Thames Organic Growers
We were delighted to welcome a group of vegetable growers who were interested in making soils more fertile and productive by using green manures. They came for a morning walk and talk, presented by Sam and Ian. We had a look at existing crops as well as what has been newly sown, and happily, the sun shone.
Since the beginning of October, we’d had sheep mob grazing on spring-established herbal ley and spring-sown Sainfoin, at the rate of 100 sheep per acre, per week, back fencing each strip as we went. The idea was to graze down the fields so they were not winter proud and leafy. The sheep certainly looked like they were enjoying it and would be on the leys until early November.
Cotswold Rivers Trust Demo Day
Since the natural flood management project at Honeydale provides a small scale, working example of how this type of flood management can be implemented on wider catchments in the UK, we were delighted to welcome representatives from various water and river authorities, councils, and bodies including the Environment Agency, as well as local people and flood action groups, to discuss what we had done and it’s wider implications.
The day's events at the Beaconsfield Hall in Shipton Under-Wychwood, were introduced by Trevor Cramphorn, Chairman of Cotswold Rivers Trust, before Ian Wilkinson and Sam Lane talked about the water management works that have been undertaken at Honeydale Farm. This was followed by presentations from waterways management specialist Vaughan Lewis, Dave Gasca, Hydrologist from the Evenlode Catchment Partnership and, Alistair Yeomans, Chartered Forester from the Sylva Foundation who spoke on the topic of Woodlands for Water. The day ended, after lunch and a Q&A session, with a site visit and tour of the works at Honeydale Farm.
Dr Richard Broughton from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, had a great visit to the farm when he came to update the bird survey. The size and diversity of our bird food plots is really paying off. He recorded approx 300 Linnets, 100+ Yellowhammers, 35 Goldfinches, 60 Greenfinches, 140 Fieldfares (on the hedgerow berries), about 30 Song Thrushes, and SIX new bird species! These were Stonechat, Brambling, Grey Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, Golden Plover (a fly-over flock) and a young Cormorant checking out the ponds from the air. That takes the bird list to 67 species. Richard also added a new mammal - Grey Squirrel - although this was close to the owl box and might have moved in.
We began creating what we believe to be a unique heritage orchard at Honeydale, complete with all the old Oxfordshire varieties of fruit trees as well as varieties and including some rare and unusual apple varieties.
The Honeydale Heritage Orchard was planted with the help of the Wychwood Project, the staff at Cotswold Seeds and friends of the farm. Varieties were planted a standard 30ft apart with an orchard within an orchard at its heart. This is an enclosed and protected space created with trees grafted onto smaller rootstocks, which we planned to use for education as an outdoor classroom.
We had always wanted to create an orchard and when we met with Andy Howard from the Heritage Fruit Tree Company near Banbury a couple of years ago our dream came into fruition - quite literally! Andy spent two years hand-grafting dozens of regional species so that we had 250 trees to plant. These included 144 apples, 35 cherries, plus apricot, damson, gage, mulberry, nectarine, peach, pear, plum, quince and nectarine.
The varieties include the historic Old Fred, Red Army and Blenheim Orange found at Woodstock in Oxfordshire, in about 1740, the original kernel planted by tailor George Kempster. We also had the Belle de Boskoop which originated in the Netherlands, as a chance seedling in 1856 and the more recent Deddington Pippin, propagated by Andy Howard in 2000 and featured on BBC 4’s ‘Apples’ programme.
‘This is a major initiative since many of the rare varieties are no longer grown commercially,’ said Andy Howard. ‘The Honeydale Heritage Orchard will help to ensure their survival.’