A Landscape Recovery project

We're working with farmers and land managers to deliver landscape recovery and build the Freshwater Network across two lowland catchments. This project supports net zero, protected sites and biodiversity - while balancing the needs of farm businesses and food production.

We’re working with our co-partners River Thame Conservation Trust, over 90 land owners, managers and other supporting partners to:

  • Develop long term ambitious recovery opportunities at both the farm and landscape scale, that deliver for biodiversity, carbon sequestration, farm businesses and local communities.
  • Apply a new type of large, landscape-scale, approach to protecting freshwater biodiversity that is evidence driven and values the critical importance of small waters in landscape restoration: the Freshwater Network.
  • Understand how recovery opportunities and the ecosystem services services they provide can be funded in the long term by blending both private and public funding mechanisms, and how these mechanisms can be best support farm businesses.
  • Assess and establish a financial and administrative structure to enable the project to obtain funding and administer long term agreements to to underpin a subsequent long term delivery phase. 

The Ock and Thame catchments

The project spans over 8,500 hectares across the Ock and Thame catchments. It comprises primarily of farmland, arable and pasture, with over 5,000 hectares of floodplain, and includes 10 protected sites (SSSIs and SACs).

On farmland, we’re focusing on making the most of the wet places and areas of low productivity. With farmers and landowners, we’re identifying how to put them to better use through the creation of rich habitat networks or as carbon stores.

Within the protected sites, we’re assessing how these species rich hotspots can best be protected and enhanced before building out, encouraging species to disperse back across the landscape.

- Project area (dark blue) for the Ock and Thame Farmers: Freshwaters and Floodplains Restoration Project

We're taking a co-designed approach with our partners and stakeholders by:

1 Establishing a steering group

representing key stakeholders of the project and wider landscape to provide leadership and guidance on land management, farm operations, biodiversity, habitats, private finance and governance.

2 Running Farmer and land manager workshops

for all project partners, providing an opportunity to assess identified options and plans and directly influence the project direction.

3 Holding one-to-one discussions with land managers and owners

to understand the specific farm needs and opportunities to develop bespoke farm plans.

4 Engaging with private finance funding opportunities

for shared aims and deliverables, as well as understanding how their investment could best support farm businesses.

First landscape-scale application of the Freshwater Network approach

The areas falls within the Oxfordshire Important Freshwater Landscape. This is one of 24 identified landscapes that are home to some of our richest and most diverse freshwater habitats. This is a place we can’t afford to lose and where conservation efforts should deliver the best outcomes for freshwater wildlife.

This project is the first application of the Freshwater Network approach within a farmed landscape at the landscape scale.

The Freshwater Network
Aerial view of valley with a river

To deliver the first landscape-scale application of the Freshwater Network approach, we’re following these principles:

  • Treat freshwaters as a network of interconnected and interdependent habitats. Around two-thirds of freshwater species use a range of different waterbody types and recovery is only possible with a network approach.
  • Protect and build out from the high quality sites, reducing local extinction risk and enabling species to disperse back across the landscape.
  • Use small waters as ecosystem engineers. About 80% of the freshwater environment is made up of smaller waters which have traditionally been overlooked in freshwater policy and management. The Freshwater Network focuses on small waters and wetlands because of their remarkable power to regenerate freshwater landscapes, rapidly and cost-effectively.
  • Bring back clean water. Clean water is vital for freshwater biodiversity but is now very scarce. Restoring it to the landscape is a key objective, looking at where low input catchments can be created or utilised.
  • Put freshwater at the heart of prioritisation. The quality of freshwaters, small and large, is inextricably linked with the quality of their catchments. We’re prioritising terrestrial habitat creation and restoration where it will create clean water catchments and help to slow flows, providing valuable grassland, woodland and scrub and high quality freshwaters.

Project partners

Natural England logo
Environment Agency logo
River Thame Conservation Trust logo
Ock Farmer Cluster logo
Newt Conservation Partnership logo
NatureSpace Partnership logo
Trust for Oxfordshire's Environment (TOE) logo