The establishment of a new Farmer Cluster begins with the identification of a lead farmer – a good farmer, respected in the community and prepared to lead, with strong green credentials. Farmer Clusters are designed to be farmer-led from the ground up, so the right choice of lead farmer is important.
The first job of the lead farmer to invite prospective members to an informal meeting, where they can discuss the area they manage – whether that’s centred on a geographical feature such as a river or valley, or simply some friends who farm a contiguous area of land – and what they hope to achieve. At this point the nascent cluster is entirely farmer-led, with no involvement from Natural England or other authorities.
An important early step in the process is to map out the proposed Cluster as is. Does it encompass any SSSIs? Does your county’s Biodiversity Information Centre carry records of any Section 41 priority species in the area? If any of the farms have taken part in our projects like the Partridge Count Scheme, the GWCT’s GIS department may have useful map data too.
Collecting this information creates an important historical record and will allow farmers to see and quantify the effect of their future hard work on the local environment – surely the point of the whole endeavour!
Once the members have agreed on what areas to target, the final step is to choose a facilitator – a local professional conservationist who can advise on improvements; offer training in monitoring techniques, law and other practicalities; liaise with Natural England; bring in experts for assistance and training; and otherwise support the project. There is funding available for this through Natural England’s facilitation fund, which has already provided financial support to 96 Clusters, with many more set to apply this year.
If you have any questions or require support for your proposed or existing Cluster, please contact GWCT Biodiversity Officer and Advisor Peter Thompson.
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What's inside your FREE guide
✓ How farmer clusters work
✓ Forming a Farmer Cluster
✓ Case study: The Selborne Landscape Partnership