WATER QUALITY ADVICE: Richard Holmes, of the Tees Rivers Trust
WATER QUALITY ADVICE: Richard Holmes, of the Tees Rivers Trust

FARMERS whose land falls within the Langley, Sudburn and Westholme Beck catchment area are being offered a 50 per cent contribution towards improvements to enhance water quality.

This could potentially offer benefits to farming practices, as well as reducing the risk of regulatory breaches.

So says Richard Homes, of the Tees Rivers Trust (TRT), a charitable organisation which is overseeing the water environment grant linked to Langley Beck and its tributaries.

The two-year funding scheme was launched early this year, with financial assistance of up to £10,000 available for projects which could include silage and slurry store coverage, as well as rainwater harvesting systems and guttering and downpipe renewal.

There is also money available to prevent the erosion of water course banks, which can be achieved by fencing to prevent livestock access and by hedge and tree planting.

The farmer’s labour can be counted as a contribution towards the total cost of individual projects, which will be specific to each holding, he points out.

Eligible farms will have land with water courses in the designated area, which runs from Staindrop and Cleatlam, through Kinninvie and finishes just before of Eggleston.

The main becks are Langley, Sudburn and Westholme, but any land that drains into these via ditches and drainage systems is eligible.

“These water courses have been singled out for assistance because they have been given a ‘poor’ classification from the Environment Agency under Water Framework Directive parameters,” explains Mr Holmes.

“It measures water health by looking at ecological, physical and chemical parameters.

“There is a need to enhance water quality throughout the country and there is considerable room for improvement in relation to these becks.

“One of the main problems facing our watercourses is excessive sediment levels, which are mostly caused by soil erosion and poaching. Another issue is high quantities of nitrate and phosphate and spikes of ammonia, which tend to come from nutrient run-off from the land and from farmyards and silage and slurry pits.”

Cleaning up the region’s water courses is a win-win situation, as taking measures to improve water quality has a range of benefits for the landowner or tenant, according to Mr Holmes.

“Among the most important are the potential savings that can be made by the farm business.

“One example is the loss of nutrient from a midden into a water course, which can be compared with throwing money down the drain.

“Taking action to avoid run-off will help to preserve soil nutrients. In the longer term, the loss of soil makes the land less productive and may erode its potential for future generations to make a living.

“However, there are many measures that can be taken that not only have a direct economic benefit; they also help to avoid prosecution for regulatory breaches and penalties linked to cross-compliance.

“In addition, when the new ‘Farming Rules for Water’ were introduced last year, officials took on an advisory role, but the rules are now starting to be enforced.”

One of the TRT’s previous projects with similar funding offered help towards the installation of a rainwater harvesting system on a 120-cow dairy unit.

It produced about one million litres and saved the farm an estimated £6,000 a year on the water bill, as well as cutting out the expense of supplying power to the electric water pump.

This took only two-and-a-half yearss to provide a return on investment.

“Another advantage for the dairy farm was that water from building roofs was no longer running on to the yard and into the collection pit, minimising the volume of water that entered the system and had to be spread on the land,” adds Mr Holmes.

“The separation of clean and dirty water is a key aspect of our work and we can contribute towards investment in storage covers, which are usually steel-framed with a sheet roof. We can also part-fund the installation of silt traps and the creation of banked-up pond areas to collect sediment and allow clean water to run out through a simple drain set-up.

“On some farms, a water course may be the only drinking source for livestock and in these cases, we can look at alternative measures such as troughs and pipework that are fed by a solar-powered pump.”

High sediment content is detrimental to water courses because it impedes the free flow of water, he explains.

It covers the natural gravel base, reducing opportunities for spawning fish and egg survival and affecting the survival of aquatic invertebrates.

Meanwhile, high levels of nitrates and phosphates deplete water oxygen content through excessive plant growth and increase flood risk.

They also have a negative effect on the overall ecology of the beck.

Despite its challenges on water quality, Langley, Sudburn and Westholme Becks are not categorised as high priority under the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme, he adds.

Although environmental schemes are available for farmers in these catchments, they may not cover some of the capital works that are available through the TRT project. He also pointed out that participating farmers can apply for further contributions of up to £10,000 of aid in the second year.

An additional element of this project is improving fish passage throughout the beck.

The TRT has been working with the Raby Estate on this target and has so far removed a weir near Dent Gate.

The trust is currently investigating the possible addition of a large weir in Ladyclose wood in the Raby Castle grounds.

Mr Holmes urges farmers who may be interested in the TRT grant programme and would like to book a visit to contact him as soon as possible; the final opportunity for creating agreements is September 2020.

Contact him on 07879 648354 or 01325 787651, email richard.holmes@teesrivers trust.org.