The movie ‘Future Farming in the Ax Basin’ is now on YouTube

Future farming in the ax catchment

The River Ax is of national significance as a designated Special Conservation Area. It is in poor condition due to ecosystem degradation, silt and nutrient enrichment in the form of high phosphate.

Since 2016 we have been working on a regulation project working with farmers in the basin to achieve compliance with the aim of getting the river back in good condition.

Land management has changed significantly in the Ax Basin in recent decades. Increased farming means farm machinery is heavier on the land than it used to be, often at inopportune times when the soil is wet. Since many soils in the basin have a high clay content, they are prone to compaction, leading to runoff as little rainfall can seep through the soil.

Richard Smith, Environmental Agency Soil Engineering Specialist said:

Due to the condition of the soil we have been depleted, and the soil, phosphates, nutrients and manure are all washed upstream of the river and deposited on gravel. They then act as a fertile field – some things thrive, but sensitive plants do not – so we end up with what is a muddy pond.

When farms are found to be non-compliant with regulations – the silage, sludge and agricultural fuel oil (SSAFO) regulation and the Aquaculture Code (FRfW) – the Environment Agency works with farmers residents to plan the migration they comply with and provide advice on how they might qualify for subsidies from Prey Sensitive Farming.

Stuart Hunter, Senior Advisor to the Environment Agency, said:

We work with farmers to find the most effective way to help them comply and protect the environment. The farmers have made it clear that they need to comply and we expect progress, otherwise we will review the regulations and implement the necessary improvements.

The film illustrates many farmers who have heeded the advice and guidance of the Environment Agency. There are simple improvements like covering the compost tongs to prevent rainwater from entering the sludge storage. And other changes are more permanent, such as switching to an all-grass-based feed system or reducing the density of their dairy herds.

Stuart added:

With climate change the impacts will be more extreme – more rainfall, drier periods – agriculture needs to adapt and change with Ax, to become more sustainable as a business and protect the environment.

We hope the film shows how we work with the people we adapt to improve the environment. People are often aware that when they do something wrong, it means they are not following the rules. It should come as no surprise that we discuss what is required for compliance. Most farmers respond well to the advice and take the right actions to become compliant, however, with a few non-participating and non-compliant minorities, we will not hesitate to use our power our enforcement – we want to work with farmers, support them to make change and do so to protect and enhance this precious river.

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