By Prof. Chris Stoate, Allerton Project Head of Research
The Welland Valley Partnership was one of the first to be set up under Defra's Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) initiative in 2013. The partnership is led by the Welland Rivers Trust with support from the Environment Agency, and also includes local authorities, National Farmers Union, Anglian Water and others, including ourselves.
The partnership's Resource Protection Group (RPG) includes these and other interests and aims to identify common ground between the often disperate interests of the partners and to guide and support local farmers to adopt management practices that improve the river.
But the Resource Protection Group is not concerned only with water as a resource. Soil, nutrients, and even pesticides which cause problems in water are also resources that require stewardship and wise use in order to achieve profitable farm businesses, as well as improved water quality and enhanced aquatic biodiversity. The common ground is not hard to find. Achieving common objectives is more challenging.
That is where the other resource comes into play - knowledge. That includes the scientific knowledge that the Allerton Project accumulates by conducting research at field, farm and landscape scales, but it also includes the knowledge that farmers have about their land at a similar range of scales.
Within the Welland RPG there is a balance between practical and academic expertise, spread across the spheres of water policy, catchment ecology, drinking water supply, agri-environmental advice delivery, soil science, agronomy, agricultural policy and practical farming. We have not fallen out yet!
That is not to say that we duck the difficult issues where conflicting interests create challenges, but there is a genuine desire to concentrate on the benefits to us all by focusing on the synergies between land and water management that will meet the needs of our children in future, as well as ourselves right now.
We don't have all the answers, and not everything we do goes as we might expect it to, but that is the nature of a pioneering initiative. By working closely with the local farming community, and drawing on the latest results from our research, and all the expertise within the group, we are well placed to achieve those common objectives.
And through the Allerton Project's ongoing programme of knowledge exchange activities, we can share the lessons learnt, the good and the bad, with land and water managers from across the country so that the benefits of our work reach far beyond the river Welland.