Land Management Update
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Friends of Bartonsham Meadows is a grass-roots group supporting environmental and socially beneficial land-use practices at Bartonsham Farm, Hereford. The group has emerged in response to recent local land management practices, regional flooding, and global climate change. The group engages a conversation with city residents, landowners, land-managers, wildlife experts, the Church Commissioners, the Church, and other stakeholders.
Bartonsham Meadow is on the floodplain of the River Wye. This means that it is naturally subject to seasonal flooding. For this reason, the most appropriate agricultural land management is some form of permanent habitat that is tolerant to periodic waterlogging. This could, for example, be a wet woodland, marsh or permanent grassland. The traditional management at Bartonsham would be similar to that seen at Lugg Meadows, where permanent grassland is grown for hay during the spring, cut in mid-summer and then grazed. The St. Owens 1847 Tithe Map shows the lower fields as being pasture and meadows, with an orchard on land close to the farm. In more recent history, Bartonsham Meadows has been home to a dairy herd since the early 1920s when the Matthews family took on the tenancy, and permanent pasture has been the predominant land use. Last year (2019) the land was sublet to an arable contractor and was ploughed up. This coincided with particularly severe floods, which covered almost the entire meadow area. Instead of the water being held by the deep root system of a permanent pasture, which acts like a sponge alleviating the extent of the flood, it poured over the recently ploughed soil. As the water receded it took away much of the topsoil, causing major pollution to the River Wye in the form of siltation and phosphate run-off.
The land is owned by the Church Commissioners for England. The Church Commissioners is a registered charity that manages an £8.3 bn investment fund in order to support the work of the Church of England. As part of this they manage the property, including farmland, of the Church of England. They have a commitment to ethical investment including social and environmental responsibility.
The land is managed by a tenant farmer, who has recently sub-let it to an arable contractor.
A tenant farmer is one who resides on land owned by a landlord. Tenant farming is an agricultural production system in which landowners contribute their land and often a measure of operating capital and management, while tenant farmers contribute their labour along with at times varying amounts of capital and management. Depending on the contract, tenants can make payments to the owner either of a fixed portion of the product, in cash or in a combination. The rights the tenant has over the land, the form, and measures of payment varies across systems (geographically and chronologically). In some systems, the tenant could be evicted at whim (tenancy at will); in others, the landowner and tenant sign a contract for a fixed number of years (tenancy for years or indenture).
The cows have been moved or sold and the land has been sub-let to an arable contractor.
We would like to see the meadows restored to permanent floodplain grassland. The land could potentially be commercially but sympathetically farmed, or managed as a nature reserve with the emphasis on maximizing its biodiversity. The key objective is to see a wildlife-friendly permanent grassland system restored to the meadows.
In the UK, over 70% of the land area is used for farming, and over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions arise from the food system. Healthy soils are a major store of carbon, containing three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and five times as much as forests. Good management of soils under an environmentally-friendly farming system can therefore directly contribute to reducing climate change.
A switch to more ecologically sensitive farming at Bartonsham would allow the soils to recover and in time become a net store rather than a net emitter of carbon. A permanently established habitat (such as a floodplain meadow) would also alleviate the effects of climate change by absorbing floodwater and reducing the level of inundation.
Whilst the carbon sequestration benefits would make a small (but important) contribution to meeting global carbon emissions targets, the effect it would make on local flooding would be significant. Permanent floodplain grassland has a deep root system and this network acts like a sponge holding the floodwater and trapping sediment. This means that more water is absorbed so the extent of flooding is less. Under this kind of deep root system, flooding is also less ‘flashy’ with the water coming up more slowly and receding gently into the ground.
Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth in all its forms and functions. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat all ultimately rely on biodiversity.
Here are a small selection of the many reasons why biodiversity is important to humanity:
Economic—biodiversity provides humans with raw materials for consumption and production. Many livelihoods, such as those of farmers and fishermen are dependent on biodiversity.
Ecological life support—biodiversity provides functioning ecosystems that supply oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment to name but a few ecosystem services.
Recreation—many recreational pursuits rely on a biodiverse environment, such as birdwatching, hiking, camping and fishing. The tourism industry also depends on biodiversity.
Cultural—our culture is closely connected to biodiversity through the expression of identity, through spirituality and through aesthetic appreciation.
Scientific—biodiversity represents a wealth of systematic ecological data that help us to understand the natural world and its origins. We are continuously discovering naturally occuring substances and compounds (as diverse as hagfish slime and penicillin) that can be directly or indirectly used in the development and production of synthetic materials and pharmaceuticals.
Our farmers are a vital part of our economy, providing jobs for people in rural communities and food for our tables. But farmers benefit as much as the rest of us (if not more) from a healthy functioning ecosystem, and unsustainable farming practices cannot continue indefinitely. The most obvious example is the global decline in insects. Intensive farming is destroying the very species that underpin food production - including pollination, natural pest control and soil health. In the long run farmers will make a better living farming regeneratively and our mission at Bartonsham is to make it easier for them to do that.
A good place to start is the Floodplain Meadows Partnership http://www.floodplainmeadows.org.uk/
Sign-up to support our objectives and receive our newsletter http://www.friendsofbartonshammeadows.org/?page_id=147
Get in touch to volunteer your skills firstname.lastname@example.org
Share with us your images and stories of the meadows for us to use to promote our campaign email@example.com
Donate to support our activities. Make cheques payable to St. James' and Bartonsham Community Association, noting ‘Friends of Bartonsham Meadows’ on the back. Please post to 19 Nelson Street, Hereford HR1 2NZ.