DISCOVER FARMING AND WILDLIFE LIVING TOGETHER IN THE EAST LOOE VALLEY

PUBLISHED: 16:37 24 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:17 30 August 2017

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4-This-streamside-fencing-keeps-soil-and-dung-out-of-the-stream-and-allows-woodland-floor-plants-to-flourish-Credit-Sue-Hocking

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is encouraging wildlife and improving river water quality in a heavily farmed landscapes

Is encouraging wildlife and improving river water quality an impossible task in a heavily farmed landscape? Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the leading local wildlife charity working to protect Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places, doesn’t think so. The trust is working with the Environment Agency and local Farmers in the East Looe Valley to do just that.

With 74% of land in Cornwall commercially farmed, working in partnership with farmers and landowners to protect and enhance wildlife is essential. There are 360 species on the county Biodiversity Action Plan list’; these are species we are worried about either because they are very rare or because their numbers are dropping fast, or both. Some species once common like house sparrows, toads, slow-worms, skylarks and yellowhammers have now been added to the list. We cannot hope to reverse declines in species and wildlife habitats unless we can work together. The Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s East Looe Project aims to benefit farm businesses, wildlife and local people alike. This is one of the Trust’s Living Landscapes’ projects, which work over large areas of land in partnership with landowners and farmers to make things better for wildlife and people.

The East Looe River rises north of Liskeard and flows south to the sea at Looe. The main river and its side streams flow through deep, narrow valley systems with winding leafy lanes, often with hamlets at the bridging points. The East Looe valley is important for wildlife; it links wildlife habitats on the south coast with the Glynn Valley and Bodmin Moor to the north. The area supports beef, sheep and dairy farming, with some arable cropping on the higher, more gently sloping fields. Much of the wildlife interest can be found in the steep woodlands and flower-rich grasslands that can be found along the river and stream corridors.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust wanted to work with local farmers to explore opportunities to link and expand the wildlife-rich habitats that still exist. Information from the Environment Agency also showed there were opportunities to improve the water quality of the main river and its side streams.

River water quality affects freshwater insects like stoneflies and mayflies, and this continues up the food-chain to higher predators including brown trout, kingfisher and otter. The quality of the water draining into the river and streams from Liskeard right down to Looe also has huge implications for local tourism businesses, because it contributes to the quality of the bathing water at popular local beaches.

Rivers and streams can be polluted in many ways as they flow through towns and open countryside. Tackling pollution from agricultural sources is just one part of the overall solution. Cornwall Wildlife Trust has teamed up with the Environment Agency to work in partnership with local farmers to prevent soil, fertilisers and animal manures entering the East Looe River. Soil washed into streams can clog up gravel beds used for fish spawning and smother river insects that provide food for lots of other creatures higher up the food chain. Nutrients from agricultural fertilisers can wash into streams with soil and lead to excessive plant growth. This reduces oxygen levels in the water and as a result the stream will not support as much wildlife as a clean stream, from caddis fly larvae under stones right through to bats feeding on insects over the water surface.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust has had a fantastic response from farmers who have contributed their own time, money and expertise. Even quite modest changes and improvements in farmyards or fields can have an impact. The tasks are often ones already on a farmer’s unenviable to-do’ list; but the advice and match-funding provided makes them happen. Work we have carried out so far includes:

  • Installing barn guttering and rainwater collection form farm buildings, to divert clean water from slurry stores to prevent them overflowing;
  • Repairing eroded gulleys in fields, to reduce how much soil and fertiliser goes into the streams;
  • Restoring existing ponds and creating new ponds with sediment traps, to create wildlife habitats and reduce how much soil ends up in streams;
  • Streamside fencing, to reduce erosion of riverbanks and help stop livestock doing their business in the water!
Many projects will be completed this year. On one farm we plan to construct a terraced series of ponds which will be multi-purpose: providing habitat for toads, frogs, newts, dragonflies and damselflies; trapping sediment to limit soil and nutrient loss to a stream; and creating an attractive feature for visitors to the farm’s holiday accommodation. What all the infrastructure projects have in common is that they benefit the farm business as well as the river environment; this approach has been key to the project’s success.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust has been very helpful in giving informal and wide ranging advice,' saysSusan Body, sheep farmer in East Looe Valley. 'It has been useful to get a grant towards a small project as grants are usually only available for large projects. This has enabled us to improve ourfarmyard manure storage, reducing the risk of run-off to thestream’.

Whilst our project work is primarily focussed on water quality, we have been encouraged by the keen interest many farmers have shown in the wildlife across their land. Most of the farms we have visited have invited us back to do full wildlife habitat surveys. These have discovered some previously unknown wildlife gems. We have found flower-rich marshy grasslands; declining wildflower species associated with arable crops including field woundwort and corn spurrey; and many areas of flower-rich pasture on steep slopes buzzing with insects. The rare long-horned mining-bee Eucera longicornis was recorded at one site and we now hope to extend their range by encouraging neighbouring landowners to manage their grasslands in a bee-friendly way. Now that we have made links with local farmers we can explore opportunities for joining up and expanding areas of wildlife habitat.

There is huge potential for enhancing existing habitats for key species like greater and lesser horseshoe bats, yellow hammers, barn owls, dormice and otters. None of this would be possible without the co-operation and enthusiasm of the local farming community.

More information about the project can be found at www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/eastlooe

Get involved

Cornwall Wildlife Trust owns or manages 57 nature reserves covering over 5000 acres (2000 hectares), protecting important habitats that provide a refuge for wildlife including rare and endangered species. You can help support Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s work, including work on our nature reserves, by joining the Trust as a member. Without our 17,000 plus members we would not be able to do all our wildlife conservation work, so a huge thank you to all our members.

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