Local farmers combine forces to create the Thame Catchment Farm Cluster

March 27, 2023

This month the River Thame Conservation Trust hosted a joint meeting for the Thame Valley and the Lower Thame farm clusters, at Stadhampton Village Hall. The aim of the meeting was to gain consensus on a merger of the two groups, discuss the groups aims, and a programme of training and knowledge exchange events, to support both short and long-term plans.

To give a flavour of how the cluster might develop, we invited Tim Field from the North East Cotswolds Farm Cluster CIC, to talk about the progress they’ve made during the two year development phase of their Landscape Recovery project. Tim has been instrumental in developing this Landscape Recovery scheme, which was one of 22 awarded funding in the first round of the new, top-level Defra ELMS (Environmental Land Management schemes) programme. ELMS schemes aim to deliver landscape and ecosystem recovery through bespoke long-term, large-scale projects, funded by a blend of public and private finance.

To help in the development of a baseline for the Thame farmers, RTCT commissioned Kirsty Brannan from Oakbank to create a ‘map of maps’ for the farmers, using the LandApp. Kirsty has been facilitating the Lower Thame group for the last three years, using her wide knowledge of farming systems, agri-environment agreements and wildlife to support the group. So far, across both farm clusters, 28 farms have been mapped, covering more than 6,000 Ha. Of these farms 64% of their land cover is arable, 31% permanent grass, 4% woodland. 88 ponds and 323 miles of hedgerows have been mapped. This is just the data mapped with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and Stewardship schemes - a great starting point, and we hope to map other environmental interventions undertaken on the land, and use it as a basis for planning landscape-scale interventions that will benefit the environment, farm businesses, and local communities.

What's been achieved so far...

Over the last two years, farmers along the Thame have bolstered the numbers native Black poplars by planting a network of trees from Aylebsury to Dorchester, erected more than a dozen barn owl boxes along the floodplains, and worked to better understand the water quality and flows on their land.

Thame catchment farmers have also been creating new habitat, with two new large backwaters to support fish stocks on the Thame and approximately 17 Ha of floodplain habitat mosaic, (with a further 29 Ha of floodplain mosaic habitat planned for the near future).  These complex wetland habitats, with a variety of ponds and scrapes surrounded by flower-rich meadows, increase biodiversity; slow, store and filter water; promote nutrient cycling and carbon capture. As they can still be grazed in summer months they also support local food production, like at Rose Dale’s Organic Farm.

The result of the meeting was to combine the Thame Valley & Lower Thame clusters into one large, joined-up, Thame Catchment Farm Cluster, supported and facilitated by RTCT. We will invite more farmers with land along the Thame to join the cluster to fill gaps in the network. Over the coming year, the cluster will work towards a more formalised structure which will allow for the planning of more strategic and significant gains. The cluster will continue the farmer knowledge exchange programme and continue moving forward with smaller projects that all farms can deliver.

Thank you to the Environment Agency and Rothschild Foundation for supporting the RTCT farmer engagement work over the last few years.

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