On Tuesday 8th March 2016, the Arun & Rother Rivers Trust (ARRT) ran a full-day rural diffuse pollution workshop with around 60 students from Sparsholt College Hampshire. The event was delivered in partnership with The Rivers Trust and Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) scheme and included a series of topical presentations as well as practical activity, such as an in-class water quality testing exercise and a visit to a nearby farm.
The day began with an excellent introduction to ARRT as an organisation and a summary of our past and present work with the farming community to improve water quality, delivered by John Archer (ARRT trustee).
Two brief presentations followed thereafter:
- Background to rural diffuse pollution and its impacts on the Western Rother catchment (Vee Moore and Ses Wright, ARRT Project Officers)
- The role of the CSF scheme in diffuse pollution minimisation, including on-farm management techniques adopted in various catchments (Samantha Mapes, Test & Itchen CSF Officer)
As an interactive break between the two blocks of presentations, we asked the students to carry out a simple water quality testing exercise. Students worked in small groups to test river and silt trap water quality for a number of parameters, namely turbidity and nitrates, and were encouraged to interpret and discuss results in relation to the river’s physical environment, such as topography, soil type and land use.
The practical activity was then followed by three short presentations:
- A summary of objectives and outcomes of the Catchment Invertebrate Fingerprinting Study on the River Test, Itchen and Hampshire Avon and the Sediment Pathways Project ( Rupert Kelton , Catchment Officer, Test & Itchen Catchment Partnership)
- The impacts of diffuse pollution on freshwater ecology, e.g. on fish spawning grounds, invertebrate populations and aquatic plants ( Denise Ashton , Wild Trout Trust)
- Landscape-scale approach to sustainable land management: linking water quality and biodiversity. Brief background to England’s Countryside Stewardship scheme and the concept of farmer clusters ( Colin Hedley , CJH Agri-Environment Consultants Ltd)
The workshop concluded with a visit to Leckford Estate in Hampshire, which is owned by the John Lewis partnership. Leckford is a working farm producing arable crops including wheat. It also supplies milk, apples, pears, apple juice, cider, free-range eggs and mushrooms as well as free-range chickens to Waitrose branches. Farm Manager, Andrew Ferguson gave us an insightful tour of Abbotts Manor Dairy where near 600 dairy cows are housed and during his talk, various diffuse pollution mitigation measures were discussed.
Students gained knowledge of the impacts of rural diffuse pollution, the mitigations methods adopted in the Test & Itchen and the Western Rother catchment and the win-wins of implementing best practice.
Students learnt about the work of organisations involved in rural diffuse pollution mitigation, and the support available to farmers and land managers to help them implement best practice.
Students carried out a series of simple tests to determine the water quality of a local water environment and considered results in relation to factors affecting the river and its surrounding catchment.
Students visited a local arable and dairy farm to gain a practical understanding of a range of farming practices implemented to reduce the risk of negative impacts on water quality.
The event was jointly funded by the Arun and Western Streams Catchment Partnership and the PINPOINT project , a partnership between The Rivers Trust and Natural England (on behalf of Catchment Sensitive Farming ) to provide training and support for Rivers Trusts, CSF staff and other relevant organisations, so that they can better advise farmers in England on how to reduce the impacts of rural diffuse pollution.
What is rural diffuse pollution and why is it a problem?
Often driven by rainfall and how we manage land, diffuse pollution occurs when nutrients, pesticides, faecal bacteria, chemicals and fine sediments are lost from the land into local streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and groundwater. Diffuse pollution often comes from a range of sources hence the effect is cumulative. So, what appears to be small amounts of runoff from one field, when added to all the other sources that also feed into a local stream or river, it can have a big overall impact on water quality.
However, it is not just an issue at a local level. The effects of diffuse pollution on water quality can often be seen miles away from the source, for example beaches designated as ‘bathing waters’ can be affected by runoff coming from further up the catchment.
Why take action?
Reducing diffuse pollution risk doesn’t just benefit water quality and the environment; it can also help to improve farm business efficiency, profitability and can lower a farm’s carbon footprint. It also keeps farmers on the right side of the regulations, protecting farm payments.
Three key ways to tackle rural diffuse pollution:
- Reduce the source of the pollution – where is it coming from? Can the pollution source be minimised?
- Block the pathway – assess how the pollution source is getting from the source to the problem site
- Prevent it getting to areas where it will become a problem – divert or collect the pollution before it reaches the watercourse