South Downs Farmers Group
In 2016 18 farmers in the South Downs came together to form the South Downs Farmers Group. Together they farm over 5,000 hectares and new members are joining all the time. Group members are all motivated by a deep respect for the landscape of the South Downs. They have a shared passion to farm in a way which delivers public benefits, including high quality, affordable food, as well as enhancing the natural environment and local wildlife.
The land within the South Downs Farmers Group has huge diversity with areas of lowland calcareous grassland, coastal and floodplain grazing marsh, ancient and native woodland and arable margins. The area is characterised by some prominent local landmarks many of which have important conservation designations. There are the great downs of Butser Hill and Kingley Vale which are both National Nature Reserves and Special Areas of Conservation. Between them are many areas of undesignated chalk grassland including several County Wildlife Sites. In addition to important conservation sites the cluster group area also includes many archaeological and historical sites which members are keen to maintain and enhance through appropriate land management.
The South Downs Farmers Cluster Group has set some challenging priorities for the first period of its operation.
These include the following:
- Increasing the connections between habitats to improve the opportunities for wildlife. Mapping of existing habitats is to be followed by targeted habitat management and creation with an emphasis on connecting species-rich grasslands, woodlands (especially Yew woods), hedgerows and ponds.
- In partnership with Portsmouth Water deliver new soil, crop and nutrient management (including maximising the use of cover crops and fallow periods) to improve the protection of water resources.
- The group has identified 4 priority species and 1 priority habitat type to focus on with the intention to increase the potential for species populations to flourish in the land within the South Downs Farmers Group. The priority species are Lapwing, Grey Partridge, Barn Owl and Brown Hare and the habitat type is insect-rich habitats including on arable land.
- Increasing partnerships and wider engagement to improve community understanding of and involvement in land and habitat management in the South Downs.
Some actions already delivered:
- Setting up trials and delivering training for members on cover crop management intended to improve soil health, reduce nutrient run-off and enhance habitats for insects and birds.
- Woodland management training giving advice and guidance on managing woodlands to deliver improved habitats and support woodland wildlife whilst also taking into account the needs of commercial activities.
- Delivered training on Grey Partridge conservation supported with guides for all priority species.
- Improving the monitoring of priority species and habitat mapping.
- Developed a set of initial proposals for working in partnership with Portsmouth Water to support farmers in managing their land differently in order to protect water resources.