Water Friendly Farming

Water Friendly Farming and catchment management

Water Friendly Farming is a research demonstration project that investigates the effectiveness of rural land management measures to protect freshwaters and the ecosystem services they provide. The project is led by Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust with the University of York and a range of other stakeholders. The Environment Agency is the project’s most significant funder.

WFFDownload the first project report Water Friendly Farming Report 2014, which highlights results from the first four years and describes our understanding of the landscape, pre-mitigation implementation.

The findings also  include some of the first scientific evidence that landscape habitat creation can prevent the loss of freshwater biodiversity at the catchment scale.


wff-update-2016-coverLatest update

Download the Water Friendly Farming Autumn 2016 Update, launched at an All Party Parliamentary Game and Wildlife Conservation Group meeting in Westminster on the 8th November 2016.

You can also read our current views about flooding and natural land-management, based on our research and practical projects.

Find out more in our article in the Guardian online (January 7th 2016).

Water Friendly Farming Background

The extent of impacts on freshwaters, especially from pollution, is shocking. Almost all lowland freshwater rivers, streams and ponds are degraded by diffuse pollution that comes from farmland activities, run-off from roads, and urban inputs including sewage works. Worryingly, three quarters of rivers in England and Wales fail to meet even minimum legal standards set for a healthy river by the Water Framework Directive. Monitoring evidence from ponds shows they have declined in quality in recent years.

“Not a single study has yet shown catchment scale improvements to freshwater biodiversity resulting from the many million pounds spent annually on mitigation measures. We urgently need to get evidence of what works and what doesn’t so agri-environment money is spent wisely and not literally poured down the drain. The new Water Friendly Farming project aims to do just that.”  Jeremy Biggs, Director – Freshwater Habitats Trust

“Sustainable intensification in arable crops means achieving high productivity, better environmental outcomes and using farming inputs more efficiently. The Water Friendly Farming Project using modern modelling technology for landscape scale studies could not be more timely.” Mike Bushell, Syngenta – project funders

Water Friendly Farming aims to provide the first catchment-scale evidence on the wide-scale measures needed to provide clean, clear water for the benefit of fish, aquatic invertebrates, plants, biodiversity and for the benefit of us all.

Management practices in the study include buffer strips on river banks, settlement ponds, stream-side fencing to reduce livestock access to streams, woody debris dams, introducing soil and nutrient management techniques to reduce runoff and many others. The project is one of the first to evaluate at the catchment scale the whole suite of land management measures that are being widely applied in lowland farmed landscapes. The participation of, and feedback from, the farmers involved in the project is an integral part of the study.

“Project funding will enable us to gather the best possible data to demonstrate the extent to which a headwater farming community can contribute to meeting EU water quality targets as well as benefiting wildlife and without impinging on their farm businesses. The project builds on previous work carried out by the GWCT on our Allerton Project farm in Leicestershire in which we combined our scientific research with the knowledge and enthusiasm of local people.” Dr Chris Stoate, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Baseline monitoring from the Water Friendly Farming project has already provided important information about freshwaters at the landscape scale. Now that practical mitigation measures have been implemented, the next phase of the project is to build upon the large dataset to help refine current freshwater management approaches.

Background information

1. Forests and floods. Drowning in fiction or thriving on facts?Media


2. JNCC Priority Ponds Definition