CHALKE VALLEY FARMER CLUSTER
The Chalke Valley Farmer Cluster was formed in 2016 with more than 20 farmers covering over 9000ha within and adjoining the Chalke Valley between Berwick St John and Coombe Bissett, south-west of Salisbury. The Cluster was set up following the desire of a number of farmers to work collaboratively to enhance the local landscape for wildlife. In the past, as elsewhere, much of the conservation activities carried out in the Chalke Valley has focussed on individual farms with very little consideration of what neighbouring farmers are doing. By working together and looking beyond farm boundaries we hope that our collective achievements will be greater than the sum of our parts. The Cluster gives us a platform to share knowledge, experience and ideas. We have access to our own, locally specific environmental advice, and greater economies of scale, with easier access to environmental funding and buying power. The basis for the group is that our objectives and activities have been developed by the farmers themselves, a bottom up approach which we believe is a more effective, sustainable way to deliver greater benefits for the Chalke Valley landscape.
CHALKE VALLEY FARMER CLUSTER
Working across farm boundaries to enhance the health and diversity
of the Chalke Valley landscape for both wildlife and people.
WHAT WE DO
Working across farm boundaries to enhance the health and diversity of the Chalke Valley landscape for both wildlife and people.
Farming is the primary land use in the Chalke Valley and is dominated by mixed farming with both livestock and arable crops being grown. The grassland on the steep chalk scarps and in the valley bottom, alongside the River Ebble, are grazed by sheep (producing lamb and wool) and cattle (producing beef and milk). Elsewhere on the flatter, free-draining land, arable crops are grown including wheat (for milling), barley (for malting) and oilseed rape (for vegetable oil) as well as fodder crops to feed the livestock. The diverse and mixed farming landscape supports a rich biodiversity including a number of nationally declining plant and animal species. We are promoting farming practices which are both economically viable and environmentally sound to protect our soils, water and to address climate change.
CARE FOR OUR CHALK STREAMS:
THE RIVER EBBLE
Chalk streams are a rare habitat renowned for their crystal-clear water and abundant wildlife.
The River Ebble rises and flows through the Chalke Valley and is one
of the five rivers that flow into Salisbury joining the River Avon.
The Ebble supports an abundance of insects, including mayfly, which in turn support fish such as brown trout, themselves providing food for other wildlife such as otters.
We are working to enhance the River Ebble by:
Removing invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam from riverbanks.
Working co-operatively on surrounding farmland to protect the river and groundwater, from run-off and nutrient enrichment such as nitrates and phosphates.
ENHANCE AND LINK FLOWER-RICH CHALK GRASSLAND
Chalk grassland is one of our most diverse habitats; it can contain up to 40 species of flowering plants in one square metre – it has been called the European equivalent of the tropical rainforest!
It supports a range of wildlife from butterflies and wildflowers, to insects, mammals and birds.
The diversity of the grassland relies on livestock farming.
Grazing by sheep and cattle maintains the balance between grass, flowers, and scrub.
It is one of our most important habitats in the Chalke Valley extending to in excess of 500 hectares or 650 football pitches!
We are working to help enlarge and link these fragmented areas of chalk grassland to enable wildlife to move more freely throughout the landscape.
IMPROVING FARMLAND FOR POLLINATORS
Wild insects pollinate our food for free and can improve both crop yields and quality.
84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and some 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination by species including bees, hoverflies and butterflies.
For maximum pollination a diverse community of insects is required.
Pollinating insects also provide valuable food for farmland birds, such as Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer.
We are providing flower-rich habitats throughout the Valley for pollinators and developing wildlife corridors so that they can move more easily around our landscape.
PROTECT THE HISTORIC LANDSCAPE
The Chalke Valley has numerous archaeological features, which illustrate the length of time human activity has influenced the local landscape.
This includes Burial mounds from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages and Iron Age settlements
There are also more recent additions such as water meadow and old farm buildings.
We are working to ensure the long-term survival of historic features by undertaking activities such as scrub removal, sensitive grazing on archaeological earthworks and protecting the built features associated with water meadows.
There are a significant number of commercial pheasant and partridge shoots within the Chalke Valley.
These enterprise provide an important contribution to the local economy.
The steep slopes of the Chalke Valley offer the potential to show some of the best high driven shooting anywhere in the UK.
Supplementary feeding, woodland management, and cover crops can bring benefits to landscape and biodiversity, but there is also the potential for negative impacts.
We are working to minimise the negative impacts of intensive shoots and promote positive elements of game management.
PROVIDING HABITATS FOR FARMLAND BIRDS
Many of our farmland birds have experienced significant declines over the last 50 years. Fortunately, the Chalke Valley still supports important populations of a number of these birds in particular:
Corn Bunting: These birds have all but disappeared from large areas of the country, they are birds of open countryside so love the chalk downland landscape found in the Chalke Valley. We are working to provide year-round habitat including areas to feed and nest. This includes insect-rich areas to feed their chicks on, safe nesting areas and seed-rich habitat to feed on.
Lapwing: This familiar farmland bird has suffered significant declines recently but fortunately it can still be found on the wide-open chalk downs, where it still breeds. We are providing areas of uncropped land (known as fallow) in our arable fields to give them somewhere to nest.
CONTACT CHALKE VALLEY FARMER CLUSTER
Get in touch with the Chalke Valley Farmer Cluster to learn more about our work and how you can get involved. Contact Cluster Facilitator Simon Smart