DOZENS of Barnsley farmers have come together to form an alliance in order to improve 600 hectares of local countryside for future generations.
The group - titled the Dearne Valley Farmers - is made up of over 40 people who are working together to make changes to their farming practices to help to boost the local environment.
Led by Chris Harrap, of Tyers Hall Farm in Ardsley, it is being run in partnership with the Don Catchment Rivers Trust.
Chris said: “We already have some really great farming practices going on in the area, lots of knowledge and experience, and everyone cares about looking after their soils and on farm resources - it makes financial sense, not just ecological.
“We’re really optimistic we can improve soils, habitats and water quality across the Barnsley area, whilst still continuing to produce plenty of food and other benefits for our local communities.
“Working as a group also gives us a stronger voice on issues which are important to us, from rural broadband to the role of soil in carbon sequestration.
“The group is working collaboratively with the wider nature conservation community to promote a more ambitious and cohesive approach to nature recovery across the landscape.”
The group has received funding from Yorkshire Water’s biodiversity enhancement programme, enabling it to run regular workshops as well as offering each member a bespoke stewardship advice visit and free soil sampling.
Chris added: “At Tyers Hall Farm we are focusing on a sustainable, circular approach to the whole farm, whether it be using farmyard manure or digestate instead of synthetic fertiliser, or making sure we leave enough space and resources for the wildlife we share the land with.
“We’re doubling the amount of land dedicated to wildlife habitats, including woodland, ponds, hedgerow and field margins.
“Whilst we are keen to improve biodiversity, these changes are also motivated by profitability - there are some areas of every farm which are relatively unproductive.
“We found plenty of farmers across Barnsley are also thinking similar things, so we decided to try to bring people together to find solutions which work for all farms across the Dearne catchment.
“We’re now seeing some group members moving to more regenerative practices, establishing agroforestry fields, trailing more diverse crops such as heritage wheats, companion cropping to reduce fertiliser inputs, and managing their grazing differently.
“The Dearne Valley is an important area for wildlife too, with a large number of special wetlands along the River Dearne.”
Jenny Palmer, from the Don Catchment Rivers Trust, praised the scheme.
“Farmer clusters are brilliant initiatives and we’re delighted to support the establishment and running of the new group in the Dearne Valley.
“There are so many funding sources out there and these often do align with changes farmers want to make to their land, at whatever scale.
“The group is farmer-led so we’re able to tailor the topics covered to what farmers want to learn more about - soil health being a key focus.”