Thursday, 11 September 2014

A great new opportunity

We are to be part of a major new Defra initiative called the Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP).  Our combination of farm and landscape scale study areas at and around Loddington will become one of a network of five such areas across England and Wales.  The decision follows a lengthy and highly competitive selection process and is testament to our pioneering research at a range of scales over the past two decades.  The study areas are not just individual sites, but incorporate several activities at the landscape scale.  In our case, this involves building on existing projects ranging from our own farm at Loddington, through our 'School Farm' demonstration catchment, to our Water Friendly Farming experiment in the headwaters of the Eye Brook and neighbouring streams, and to the river basin scale through the Welland Valley Partnership. Collaboration is key to our research.  This involves numerous people, and I would like to thank those who have supported this bid directly, and by contributing to our work over the years, enabling us to become one of the five national SIP study areas.
Our current study area (green circle) around the upper Eye Brook and Stonton Brook tributaries of the River Welland, with the Water Friendly Farming project in the headwaters, and our own farm at Loddington outlined in purple.
On our own farm at Loddington, Alastair Leake's role has been pivotal in facilitating the increasing emphasis on soil management, developing a new eco-build visitor centre to enable us to expand our activities, and translating research findings into policy.  John Szczur has brought exceptional knowledge of animal and plant identification and ecology to the project at Loddington for more than twenty years, as well as being at the core of our data collection at the landscape scale.  As Farm Manager, Phil Jarvis plays a central role at Loddington, juggling the needs of the farm business with those of our research trials, while Jim Egan plays a key role in disseminating information to the farming community nationwide through initiatives such as the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and the FWAG Association.

Outside Loddington, collaboration is key.  In the School Farm demonstration catchment, thanks to our neighbours who own most of the area, and especially to Gareth Owen on whose farm we will be concentrating our efforts on livestock and grassland research and demonstration with Nottingham University.

At the larger catchment scale, thanks to the numerous local people who participated in the Eye Brook Community Project in recent years, raising both awareness of agri-environmental issues locally, and the profile of the Eye Brook catchment nationally.  Thanks to Jeremy Biggs and the rest of the Freshwater Habitats Trust team for all their work on the Water Friendly Farming project over the past three years, incorporating the Eye Brook headwaters and two neighbouring catchments.  We look forward to developing this work further.

These various initiatives are nested within the upper Welland river basin and I would like to thank our partners in the Welland Valley Partnership, a collaboration of statutory agencies, local authorities, businesses, and NGOs that provides a forum for local knowledge exchange, extension of our research experience, and practical action on the ground.

Our research and associated demonstration activities are usually carried out as partnerships with other research organisations from across the country, including numerous co-supervised PhD and MSc students.  The universities of Cranfield, Lancaster, Reading, York, Nottingham, Leicester and others have all contributed to our research over the years, as have ADAS, CEH, Fera, Rothamsted Research, RSPB, BTO, NIAB TAG, Anglian Water, Syngenta, Michelin and Agrii SoilQuest.  This collaborative approach has enabled us to carry out a wide range of interdisciplinary research combining natural and social sciences.  We look forward to further collaborations with these and other partners through the SIP, especially and most immediately with Nottingham University, Exeter University and NIAB TAG.

Finally, thanks to the many farmers in our local area who have supported our research in many ways.  We intend that the SIP will provide real opportunities for their farm businesses through the research that we will carry out with their inspiration and participation.  An oxymoron to some, the concept of 'Sustainable Intensification' is in essence about optimisation - finding an optimal balance between food security for a growing global population, resource use efficiency, conserving biodiversity, improving water quality, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and other economic, environmental and social objectives for the agricultural environment.

Apart from being an affirmation of the value of our research activities to date, the SIP will provide additional financial and academic support to enable us to develop our approach further, and will strengthen the translation of our research findings into policy and practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment