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Success of farming scheme paves way for nature recovery across the South Downs

A new nature-friendly farming initiative in the South Downs National Park is sowing the seeds for significant wildlife recovery in the coming years.

In its first year of operation, the Farming In Protected Landscapes (FiPL) programme has gone from strength to strength, working with nearly 180 farmers across the South East region to help create wildlife habitat such as woodland, hedgerows and dew ponds.

The South Downs National Park Authority has supported 71 separate projects to help kickstart nature recovery, climate action and sustainability, as well as improving landscape, heritage and access.

The success comes after FiPL was announced by Defra last year to help support farmers in England’s 44 protected landscapes. The National Park Authority’s farming team have been delivering the programme locally and last year they invited farmers to apply for funding.

Now, at the end of its first year of operation, more than £600,000 has gone into supporting a variety of innovative projects. Highlights include:

  • Over 3,600 metres of new hedgerows have been created.
  •  Almost 10 hectares of woodland is being enhanced to make it more attractive to wildlife.
  • A total of 38 projects are helping to store carbon to reduce the greenhouse effect.
  • Four ponds have been restored and two new ponds have been created.
  • ·Some 228 metres of flint walling has been restored.
  • ·Six projects will improve soil quality, while a further six will help to reduce flood risk.
  • Management will be improved at 2,300 hectares of land at Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), while a further 600 hectares of land outside SSSIs will be enhanced to support biodiversity.
  • Over 4,300 hectares of land is now being managed with regenerative farming techniques, which focus on rejuvenating depleted topsoil to improve its biodiversity and carbon-capturing powers, while also producing high-quality food.
  • Over 40 projects will help the general public have a better understanding of farming and landscape.

Nigel James, Countryside and Policy Manager and who leads the farming team at the National Park, said: “The first year of this initiative has been a resounding success and we couldn’t have achieved any of it without the support, ambition and skills of local farmers.

“Around three quarters of this amazing landscape is farmland, so farmers really are the lifeblood of the South Downs National Park. The South Downs continues to be a major food-producing region of the UK and this programme shows that high-quality food production can sit alongside wildlife recovery and climate action. Moreover, they can work in harmony with one another, making farms more resilient in the long-term to the effects of climate change.

“FiPL is a key strand of our ambitious ReNature campaign to create new spaces for nature in the South Downs. This is just the start and it’s exciting to think about the milestones that the farming community could achieve in the future through their continued commitment and hard work for improving biodiversity in the South Downs.”

A further £150,000 of funding has already been allocated as the programme enters its second year.

A Local Assessment Panel, predominantly made up of farmers, has helped to allocate the funding. The panel includes representatives from the Arun to Adur Farmers Group, Eastern South Downs Farmers Group, Rother Valley Farmers Group, Selborne Landscape Partnership, South Downs Farmers Group, Winchester Downs Cluster, as well as representatives from Natural England,

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