Farmers do a lot for Britain’s rural environment, but there is only so much that an individual, acting in isolation, can do on his or her own farm. The Farmer Cluster concept, developed by the GWCT in association with Natural England, is a plan to help a number of farmers work more cohesively together in their locality, enabling them to collectively deliver greater benefits for soil, water and wildlife at a landscape scale.
A Farmer Cluster is designed to start life at a bottom-up, farmer level, under the guidance of a lead farmer. They devise their own conservation plans, helped by their own chosen conservation advisors, whom they already know and trust. Although the work is often supplemented by existing agri-environment schemes, several Clusters have set up with no funding.
The GWCT had seen success in involving farmers nationwide in conservation through the Partridge Count Scheme and by helping to start up the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (NIA), the only farmer-led NIA in the country, so were aware of the potential of bringing farmers together to deliver conservation on a landscape scale.
How Farmer Clusters work
The GWCT approaches any prospective Farmer Cluster project with a single open question: “What wildlife do you want on your farm?” This is the first step in generating a farmer-led and outcome-oriented approach, in which farmers appoint a lead farmer, choose their own GWCT advisor, set their own targets, and record their own progress.
This approach has driven the popularity of the programme with farmers, and as a result the five Clusters established across southern England as part of the pilot scheme (2013-15) have grown to 22.
Farmer Clusters form the bedrock of major GWCT research projects including Waders For Real, where local farmers responded voluntarily to GWCT concerns about the conservation status of breeding waders, forming the Avon Valley Breeding Wader Project and securing EU LIFE+ funding. There are also Farmer Clusters centred on our demonstration farms at Loddington, Leicestershire, and the Howe of Cromar, Aberdeenshire, the latter being the first of its kind in Scotland.
Our team of experienced advisors can provide advice on setting up Clusters and can offer training courses for facilitators and farmers. For further details, please contact Lynda Ferguson on 01425 651013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.