As part of Yorkshire Water’s ‘Beyond Nature’ work, an innovative project is underway at Ings Farm in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to create a biohub focusing on agroforestry and forest gardening in relation to regenerative agriculture.
Yorkshire Water’s Beyond Nature programme is an environmental initiative that helps farmers on its land take a more holistic, sustainable and biodiverse approach to land management and agriculture. Since 2016, Yorkshire Water has been working with its farm tenants to get them involved in the initiative. It currently has 6,314ha of land signed up across 16 farms.
Situated to the south west of Menwith Hill, Ings Farm represents the challenges typically experienced by Yorkshire’s uplands, and is not particularly suited for producing food. The landscape is characterised by poor drainage, soil erosion with associated nutrient runoff, and marshy depressions between ridges on the land. Interestingly, ‘Ings’ is an old Norse word that refers to water meadows and marshes – hence the farm’s name.
The biohub’s key aims are not only to improve biodiversity and food production capacity, but also to illustrate how a variety of regenerative land management approaches can benefit the land’s capacity to sequester carbon and hold and sink water, while also preventing nutrient run-off.
Yorkshire Water’s Lead Surveyor Lisa Harrowsmith says: “The rationale for embarking on this project is, in essence, to improve the landscape and ecological features to benefi t the hydrology of the site, as well as exploring viable farming enterprises. Land and water are inextricably linked, and this project aims to show exactly how important that is with our wider Beyond Nature initiative.”
The focus of the biohub project is to showcase different approaches to regenerative agriculture – with an emphasis on agroforestry, forest gardening and other ecological features – and how it can create a continuous productive landscape. Commercial partners supporting this initiative are doing so to strengthen their longer-term sustainability strategies. In addition, the biohub will educate current and future generations of chefs and farmers on sustainable farming practices.
Dr Vincent Walsh from RegenFarmCo, who is leading the project’s design and management, says: “There is a lot of debate around regenerative farming practices, and our aim is to explore and evaluate the many different options that could be implemented on a farmer’s land depending on its geographical, biological and environmental context.
“One size does not fit all, and what works for one area might be totally unsuitable for another. But designing the landscape is also key, and my approach is similar to that of a precision engineer who appreciates that it’s about function and form.”
Plans for the biohub are in the final stages of development, and it is hoped that works on the farm will start in late summer 2022. In addition to site visits, regular briefings on progress are provided to the Nidderdale AONB’s Joint Advisory Committee, led by Harrogate Borough Council. Other key partners include the Forestry Commission and Natural England. Various parcels of land on the farm have been subjected to surveying (birds and wildlife), which also included penetrating radar work to assess the soil structure up to 2m deep. Additionally, drone surveying enabled a three-dimensional understanding of the landscapes on the farm, which is crucial before design Vincent adds: “Understanding the complexities of the site is a vital first step to determine the design of ‘what goes where’, particularly as there is such variability in landscape features across the 37ha farm.
“In our design, we also consider the features surrounding the farm, which include five houses and two commercial forests. For example, the buildings immediately limit the areas where we can plant trees, while the forests are not conducive to ground nesting birds like lapwing and curlew, as they are very susceptible to predation. “In response, our plan will incorporate missed and highly diverse interventions that will address such variability while maintaining an overarching sustainable design ethos and aesthetic.” Working with the farm’s tenant farmer Derek Greenwood, RegenFarmCo, its commercial partners and Yorkshire Water aim to demonstrate the challenges and opportunities inherent in applying agroforestry and forest gardening designs to silvopasture and silvoarable systems.
The group accepts that there will be challenges. Vincent concludes: “I’m sure we can do a follow-up piece in five to 10-years-time to show the positive impacts of our sustainable designs.”