Wyescapes; Food, Nature, Water

The Wyescapes project launched on 8th May with its inaugural meeting held on the banks of the Wye in Hereford. The project brings together 40 land holdings covering more than 4000 hectares of land along the river corridor, spanning the county of Herefordshire from north to south.

The farmers and land managers are working to identify actions and changes they can make to restore the rivers’ health such as reducing nutrient use, reverting high risk fields from arable cropping to grassland, creating new wetlands, floodplain meadows and woodlands.

The project’s long term aim is to restore the Wye catchment to a healthy condition, so its rivers and their tributaries can support the unique wildlife that depends on them, provide clean and plentiful water, be resilient to climate change, mitigate flood risk, provide places for people to enjoy – all while supporting sustainable food production.

Wyescapes launch meeting 8th May, Hereford Rowing Club

What is Landscape Recovery?

Landscape Recovery is the top tier of DEFRA’s Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs). Unlike the other elements of ELMs, Landscape Recovery enables groups of land managers to work collaboratively to design collaborative, bespoke, long-term schemes. Landscape Recovery is a large-scale, long-term scheme for farmers and land managers that will offer generational benefits for agricultural businesses, the environment and local communities.

The Wyescapes project has now begun a 2 year Development phase during which the participating land managers and project partners will be:

– Identifying the land management changes they would like to deliver,

– Baselining to quantify the benefit in terms of nutrients, carbon and biodiversity that will be achieved by the land management changes

– Securing long term public and private funding to enable delivery during the potential 20 year implementation phase

– Develop legal agreements to govern the delivery and funding agreements for the implementation phase.

The bespoke agreements of successful projects are expected to deliver environmental benefits for the next 20 years and beyond.

Why in the Wye?

The River Wye and its catchment together create an iconic landscape, hugely important for nature due to its wide range of rare river wildlife, loved by people and important for food production. In 2010 the River Wye was voted the nation’s favourite river, described as “magical and timeless” but since 2020, TV programmes, celebrities and communities have been decrying the polluted and degraded state of the river. In 2023, both the River Wye and River Lugg had their status downgraded by Natural England to ‘unfavourable – declining’ due to diminishing numbers of Atlantic salmon, white-clawed crayfish and aquatic plants.

A strong foundation for collaborative delivery has been developed between local organisations through the Farm Herefordshirepartnership. Herefordshire Rural Hub leads the Wyescapes project and will be working with several partners during its delivery including Herefordshire Meadows, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and the Wye & Usk Foundation.

The impact of farms delivering environmental schemes in isolation has been limited, moving to collective action and operating at larger scale will ensure greater benefits for the future. For food production to be resilient in the long term, farming and nature must go hand in hand. Landscape Recovery projects are pioneering innovative methods to deliver environmental benefits in harmony with food production

Kate Speke-Adams, Director, Herefordshire Rural Hub says:

“This is an incredible opportunity to develop a bespoke scheme with the land managers of the Wye, Lugg and Arrow floodplains. DEFRA’s Landscape Recovery provides us with a mechanism to support farmers in adapting their land management, deliver the multiple ecosystem services that floodplains offer while still supporting sustainable food production. It’s a triumph for Herefordshire and it’s a triumph for the Wye.”

Ben Andrews, participating farmer on the River Arrow, said

“Our Wyescapes project aims to improve the water quality of the River Wye & Lugg, produce top quality food while boosting and protecting nature. It’s a triple whammy and we’re excited to get started.”

Mark Wood, participating farmer on the River Wye, said

“Wyescapes will enable farmers, growers and landowners to take the measures needed to sort out the issues they are responsible for that are affecting the River Wye and improve the whole environment for the long term. The hard work really begins now to make sure the whole scheme is designed right to enable real change for the long-term.”

Emma Whitehouse, Environment Agency Wyescapes Project Liaison Officer, said:

“Wyescapes is an exciting Landscape Recovery project for the River Wye, these projects are pioneering innovative methods to deliver environmental benefits in harmony with food production.  It is great to be part of this catchment wide collaboration with its shared vision and commitment to restore the Wye catchment to a healthy condition in the long-term. This much-loved Special Area of Conservation also includes several Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designations. Catchment partners and the Wyescapes Land Managers have real enthusiasm for this project and what it could achieve for all.  We look forward to continuing our support for the project, as the lead liaison organisation as part of Defra’s Landscape Recovery Scheme.”

Project website can be found here.