In a clear sign that collaboration and knowledge-sharing is the popular choice among our members, the North Norfolk Coastal Group hosted a contingent from the Wensum Farmers Group on a very soggy Friday morning in Snettisham and Ingoldisthorpe.
The first port of call was at the Snettisham Water Recycling Plant on the edge of James Wilson’s farm at Ingoldisthorpe. Here, Dr Jonah Tosney of the Norfolk Rivers Trust explained the way that four ponds were providing the key to cleaning water once it has left the sewage works (water recycling centre). In essence, the ponds with their plant growth were providing a filtration system that removed phosphorus, nitrogen and other elements from the water, returning it into the river Ingol in a significantly cleaner state.
The four ponds had been built approximately five years ago on seven acres of James Wilson’s less productive land. The ponds were then monitored by the NRT and academic partners to see how successful they were in filtrating the harmful substances from the water. Evidence suggest the system is working well – 99 per cent of harmful bacteria has been removed by the time the water exits the system – although there is still plenty of date to capture in order to gain a clear picture.
The by-product of the work has been a huge increase in biodiversity in the area. The ponds are abundant with plant and insect life. There are many, many water voles living in the banks and two sets of Marsh Harriers have successfully reared young at the site.
Following a wet but fascinating tour of the site, the two farm cluster groups then moved to Ken Hill Farm at Heacham Bottom to hear from Farm Manager Nick Padwick about the estate’s journey towards regenerative farming. With nearly two hours of information to digest, the audience had plenty to think about when they left the farm, but key to Nick’s message was that, while not everything had worked as he and the Buscall family had introduced the system, the soil had been in too poor a state to not try.
Among the big successes notched up were a huge decrease in the use of pesticides and herbicides (something that had started during the previous manager’s time); big improvements in soil health; and a really fascinating farm-scale composting operation.
Nick’s presentation included a lot of examples of improving life in the soil as seen through the lens of a powerful microscope; as well as the approach to cultivating fields that basically turned all fields into carefully mapped out rectangles.
Plenty of food for thought and a great way to start a reciprocal friendship with our River Wensum neighbours.