South Downs Farmers Group
In 2016 18 farmers in the South Downs came together to form the South Downs Farmers Group. The group now has over 30 members and farms an area of about 8000 hectares. 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 increasing local wildlife populations and enhancing the natural environment.
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 cluster area. The priority species are Lapwing, Grey Partridge, Barn Owl and Brown Hare and the habitat type is Insect-rich Habitat, 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:
- Carried out a number of trials with Portsmouth Water to research cover crop management and lead to improvements in soil health and reductions in nutrient run-off.
- Completed woodland management training, receiving advice and guidance on managing woodlands to deliver improved habitats and support woodland wildlife whilst accounting for commercial activities.
- Delivered a farm walk for the Portsmouth Beekeepers’ Association, looking at different pollinator species and sources of pollen and nectar in a farmed landscape.
- Completed training on Grey Partridge conservation supported with guides for all priority species.
- Continually improving the monitoring of priority species and habitat mapping across the area.
If you would like to learn more about the Group and the work being undertaken by our farmers please contact the Facilitator, Colin Hedley,
by email email@example.com or phone 07866 443053.
Projects in progress...
- The group is collectively creating and restoring a series of dew ponds across their farmed area. These provide great habitat for lots of species of wildlife but especially for Turtle Doves. These birds are currently on the red list and need local sources of water to breed successfully as they use it to make a seedy gruel for their chicks.
- We have also received Farming In Protected Landscapes funding to carry out a digital mapping project. The natural habitats and options provided by agri-environment schemes have been mapped for each farm member and these have been collated into a Map of Maps. This should help the group with their aim of targeting projects to connect and expand existing areas of habitat.
- We are now working with Natural England to survey populations of deer in key areas of the national park and assess whether they are causing damage to wildlife habitats and agri-environment options.