Conservation

Looking Forward after a Wet Winter

Here at Deepdale Farm, we have great ambitions to improve the farm for wildlife and people and to farm more sustainably. We’ve been thinking about a wide range of projects – no idea is too insane. We’re really excited about the future.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, however (as John Lennon sang). So thanks to Covid-19, work on the farm continues while our tourism business has had to take a pause. A small team continues to work here full time, as our crops still grow and we have plenty of work to do.

Listen to the latest episode of the Deepdale Podcast for more on what’s happening on the farm at the moment.

Covid-19 wasn’t the first time circumstances overtook us this year. Along with the rest of the country, in January and February, we felt the effects of abnormally heavy rainfall including Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis. 60.9mm of rain fell on Deepdale Farm in January, almost three times as much as the previous January. February brought 91.5mm, our wettest February since 2010.

Like many farms across the UK, this rainfall caused issues for us. It damaged crops and soil and left some fields too wet to plant. This area of North Norfolk usually gets some of the lowest average rainfall in the UK, however by mid-January, the soil was so saturated it simply couldn’t absorb any more rainfall. By the storms of early February, water was running off our fields, eroding topsoil. The weather gave us a stark reminder that the soil on our farm was vulnerable.

From talking with Norfolk Rivers Internal Drainage Board about works to reduce flood risk in January, within days they were working on the farm as the rain continued to fall, adding dykes and a pond to one of our fields to capture runoff. The video below explains more about this work.

Nathan talks about how we’ve added a new hedgerow to one of our fields and why we did it.

Following the rains, Norfolk Rivers Trust offered us additional support with flood mitigation through their Water Sensitive Farming initiative. It might seem odd that we’re working with a rivers charity when our farm isn’t even on a river, but we are still part of a catchment. Much of Deepdale Farm is on a hill – rainwater flows down this hill towards the coast where it drains into the marsh. Norfolk Rivers Trust have been incredibly helpful, working with us to understand our situation and offer best practice guidance.

A new pond, full after rain in February, which we will develop as a resource for wildlife

So working under pressure at times, we’ve achieved a lot with the help of the Norfolk Rivers IDB, Norfolk Rivers Trust and our amazing farm team, adding two new dykes and a pond to one field, and planting 2,600 new hedging plants and trees to absorb rainwater and prevent soil erosion.

Quite apart from their benefits in flood mitigation, we hope to develop the pond as a brilliant habitat and resource for biodiversity, and the new trees and hedging plants are a rich mix of species that will provide benefits for wildlife as well as looking beautiful.

Soil sampling with Sam from Norfolk Rivers Trust Water Sensitive Farming team

We have more to do, starting by taking soil samples this week and assessing soil structure so we have a baseline for future improvements. Next month we’re drilling (sowing) cover crops on fields that have previously been used to grow carrots, to shield the soil from erosion, fix nitrogen, stimulate soil biology and build organic matter. This is the beginning of a programme of work to restore and protect the soil on our farm and increase resilience against flooding that is likely to take several years. We look forward to sharing more on this soon.

Looking towards the sea from Deepdale Farm

Like so many other farms, we’re looking to the future with more than a little uncertainty. The ramifications of our exit from the European Union, the phasing out of the Basic Payment Scheme, the introduction of a new Agriculture Bill and associated agri-environment support all play a part. Covid-19 has disrupted all of this and will continue to do so for some time. Despite all of this, we’re excited and hopeful. We farm in a very beautiful place on the North Norfolk coast; we’re looking forward to welcoming people back to our backpackers and campsite and our festivals and events when restrictions are lifted and we’re sure we can keep our staff and guests safe. We’re passionate about the work we’re doing to further improve the farm for wildlife. We’re looking forward to welcoming back the Hedge Collective, our awesome team of conservation volunteers.

In the past few months, we’ve had many conversations with a range of partners and experts on everything from soil improvement to biodiversity, regenerative agriculture to woodland management, mapping to data and crop health to beer. Some of these chats have left our heads spinning. We’re looking forward to working with other farms with shared aims through local partnerships and we’ve joined organisations such as Norfolk Farming Wildlife Advisory Group for further support and collaboration.

We’ll continue talking, learning and sharing what we do. Follow this blog and our social media for updates and to find out how you could get involved in the future.