Oxfordshire farmers invited to Ock Catchment Farmer Cluster launch

19th August 2022

Oxfordshire farmers are set to launch a cluster group to improve the water network of the River Ock and enhance the surrounding rural landscape. Farmers and landowners in the River Ock Catchment, east of Oxford, are invited to the launch of the Ock Catchment Farmer Cluster (OCFC) on 15 September at New House Farm, Southmoor.

Farmers in the Ock Catchment can sign up to the event on EventBrite

The breakfast event will introduce farmers to the benefits of joining the OCFC, from sharing knowledge and networking to accessing funding for agri-environment schemes.

Led by Freshwater Habitats Trust, the River Ock Catchment includes the River Ock as well as the Thames valley around Oxford, with its famous riverside meadows. The project is part of the Defra-supported Catchment Based Approach.

Hosted by local farmer James Blanchard on his third-generation family farm in Southmoor, the event is chaired by Tom Allen-Stevens, who has an arable farm in Faringdon and leads the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN).

“This is truly an exciting time for farmers in Oxfordshire,” says Tom. “The initial discussions we’ve had suggest we now have a real opportunity to significantly enhance not just the valuable water network of the River Ock, but also the stunning countryside it meanders through. The more of us who come together with a shared vision, the more we can achieve for the landscape we love.”

After Tom’s introduction, guests will hear from farmer Tim Field about his experience of being part of The North East Cotswold Farmer Cluster.

Chris Stoate, Head of Research at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Allerton Project research and demonstration farm at Loddington will share some of the outcomes from the Water Friendly Farming project, which the organisation runs with Freshwater Habitats Trust and the University of York.

Guests will also hear about some of the Ock’s wildlife-rich freshwater habitats from Freshwater Habitats Trust CEO Jeremy Biggs. Jeremy will also talk about the Ock’s status as an Important Freshwater Area.

Natural England Catchment Sensitive Farming Advisor Ellen Fake will explain some of the current funding opportunities through ELMS. She will also provide some advice on managing the transition from existing Government funding under Countryside Stewardship and the Basic Payments Scheme. A representative from the Thames Water Catchment Fund will highlight the private sector investment potential for agri-environment schemes. Karen Lindley of Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment will outline Biodiversity Net Gain funding opportunities.

Attendees will have the opportunity to join a tour of local farmer James Blanchard’s operations near Southmoor.

Freshwater Habitats Trust Catchment Officer Adam Bows said: “Through the Ock Arable Project and the Ock Catchment Partnership, we’re already working with several farms and agricultural businesses across the catchment who share our passion for a healthy freshwater environment. The launch of the Ock Farmer Cluster is an important next step in us establishing a community of like-minded people who can share ideas, collaborate and access funding opportunities.

“We know that many farmers in the catchment are keen to get involved in agri-environment schemes but we can achieve so much more by working together. The launch event will be a great opportunity to find out more about the cluster and the benefits it can bring to our farmers and to wildlife in the Ock Catchment. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and to meet other local farmers over breakfast.”

Following a Game & Wildife Conservation Trust pilot in 2012, several Farmer Clusters have been established across the UK over the last decade. These groups allow farmers and land managers to achieve their ambitions, increase skills and knowledge to benefit people and wildlife.

Anyone who is unable to attend the launch but interested in finding out more can contact ABows@freshwaterhabitats.org.uk for details about the OCFC.