How Severn Trent is helping farmers by creating stunning wildlife meadows
Monday 4 September 2023
Chatting to Susey Bamber in a stunning wildflower mini-meadow near Malvern, Worcestershire, a Skylark flew by, with their cheery call briefly filling the summer air.
As the Severn Trent Senior Agricultural Advisor chatted about the creation of this stunning habitat, full of the most beautiful of wildflowers and buzzing with insects, she gently brushed a friendly spider from her.
Pointing to the meadow, she said: “In here we have butterflies, bees, ladybirds, you can hear the grasshoppers… it is full of pollinators. They are good for everybody, because they help produce our food.
“The wildflowers are great for people to see while they are using the footpath nearby, great for well-being.
“The tufty grass may attract small mammals, in turn attracting owls dwelling in the nearby trees. The whole food chain is here.”
The creation of the meadows – complete with wildflowers like the Ox-Eye Daisy and Lady’s Bedstraw - helps the farmer by aiding biodiversity to attract insects, the natural predators of crop pests. Field planting options may help prevent flooding, by improving soil biology and structure.
Yet this green oasis and many more like it may never have existed without advisors like Susey and the Severn Trent Environmental Protection Scheme (STEPS), whose aims including preventing pesticides, nitrates and cryptosporidium from reaching rivers, watercourses and groundwater – both to protect drinking water quality and the wider environment.
Farmers can apply for grants of up to £30,000 for projects like pesticide washdown areas with rainwater harvesting, over winter cover crops and help with livestock fencing. Farmers have also been awarded grants under Severn Trent’s biodiversity focused Spring STEPS scheme to create wildlife meadows and feeding bird options.
STEPS and farming is something Susey is passionate about. Having grown up in the countryside, she pursued an agricultural career after graduating from Bath Spa University and carrying out her Masters part-time at the Royal Agricultural University. She worked for Agricultural focused projects and charities before working for Natural England offering help and advice to farmers on environmental grants, which provides a great foundation to her role now, as a Severn Trent advisor for around eight years.
STEPS has so far awarded over 2,160 grants to farmers for a wide range of projects which have led to many environmental benefits, including the creation of more than 4,600 hectares of new habitat. The habitats support insect and mammal populations that can attract birds to the area which, in turn, supports the natural predator population – all helping control crop-damaging aphids and slugs.
STEPS has proven to be a sustainable value for money scheme. Susey, who covers the Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, and Staffordshire catchments, said: “For every pound spent, we can make between a £2 and £20 saving in water treatment costs. That can really help customer bills.
“Our advisors help farmers select the appropriate options to apply for. I believe a grant only works, if it supports a customer to do something they were thinking of doing but need a little assistance to implement the improvement. That’s why it is worth farmers working with their local advisor to make the right application.”
Farmer Tim Smith, has benefitted from a number of STEPS grants, including creating the mini meadow we are chatting in. He has now switched from arable farming to making his land an environmental and wildlife haven, having also signed up for the Government’s similar Countryside Stewardships scheme.
Tim said: “STEPS has totally changed the way in which I farm. If I had not done these STEPS options I would not have seen the benefit and increase in wildlife which they bring and would not have entered the whole of the farm into a combination of wildlife schemes.
“I have learned a lot about establishing and maintaining these areas - which is totally different from arable farming - by doing small areas over several years. If the whole farm had been entered into a scheme in one go it would have been a mistake.”
Tim added: “Farming, like a lot of industries, is facing challenging times at the moment. That is why schemes like STEPS can provide a valuable alternative income stream, especially on unproductive areas of land.
“The continued rise in machinery prices and volatility in commodity prices makes life interesting. Schemes like STEPS, giving a guaranteed income for the term of the scheme, help make things less uncertain.”
Susey has found farmers have an intrinsic passion to help the environment, especially once the positive benefits of the STEPS schemes are explained to them.
She said: “Lots of people I work with believe they are the custodians of the land. They want to leave it in the same or better condition they received it in and are sad they lost their wildlife from when they were little.”
Her front-line role sees her travelling around the countryside in her Catchment areas, explaining the scheme to farm owners and tenant farmers, and helping with applications.
She said: “An important skill in this role is you must be able to talk and listen to people. You are front of house, like in a restaurant, so you must be able to communicate.
“An everyday farm visit is different, so you have to be able to adapt to the type of farm and challenges of that farm business.”
Susey is also effusive about her hugely experienced work colleagues who include partnership advisors Emily Williams and Robin Bickley, who work for Severn Trent and Worcestershire Wildlife Trust on the Farming for Water Programme.
She said: “We have a brilliant, fully qualified and knowledgeable team.”
She added of her role: “I’m really proud to work for Severn Trent and I want to leave a positive legacy behind me. I feel my job is helping me leave that legacy.”
As we walked slowly away from the thriving meadow, it was impossible not to agree.
*Farmers and landowners can continue to apply for STEPS Water Quality funding until December 31 and Spring STEPS funding until October 31. To find out more visit https://www.stwater.co.uk/