Farmers who want to carry out environmental work are being confused by conflicting advice from multiple agencies, the NFU’s first farmed environment conference heard this week.
Carol Griffiths farms in the River Clun Catchment in Shropshire, where recovering the pearl mussel population is a priority.
She explained to conference attendees how she is working with Natural England, the Environment Agency, Catchment Sensitive Farming, the Severn Rivers Trust, Welsh Water, the AONB Rivers officer, the Clun Recovery Project, Severn Trent, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, various land and livelihood projects and several local wildlife groups to protect the mussels.
“The advice is not always consistent,” she said.
“One meeting advanced the virtues of ploughing in one direction to stop run-off, but [another farmer] had been to a workshop which told him to go in exactly the opposite direction.”
Ms Griffiths pointed out staff turnover and new legislation confused matters further.
She said: “As new people come into post at Natural England or the Environment Agency or new legislation comes up, new priorities develop and the advice which is good for water is not always good for air or soil.
“[They advise] min-till for water, for instance, but deep plough for air.”
The focus on improving water quality for the mussels is also crowding out other important environmental priorities, according to Ms Griffiths.
“In the criteria for our Entry Level Stewardship scheme, our aim was to produce the patchwork of farming which makes the area so beautiful, but by the time we had got to the latest scheme, the only thing in it was water quality,” she said.
“As a result of that, a lot of upland overwintered stubble has been lost because it was on too much of a slope, even though it was a mile away from the river.
“An awful lot of larks and yellowhammers have, I suspect, now gone.”