This project to revitalise ditches and engage with landowners lies at the heart of the conservation aims of the Fifth Continent Scheme and as you might expect there has been lots of work going on in the last few years despite the challenges presented by Covid 19 during 2020. Interest from farmers started slowly when the project first launched, as it took some time for us to explain to farmers what we were offering and what were the benefits for them.
Listed below are the key achievements with this project. Please click on the green bars to reveal information on what has been achieved to date.
Since the start of the project we have completed capital works to improve ditches and plant trees working with 10 different landowners spread across the Marsh. To select just a couple to highlight the range of good work:
- on the larger scale – in February 2021 we completely re-profiled 2.4kms of ditches and created 5 corner pools as well as widening certain sections of the channel on a 900 Ha farm near Newchurch which now looks fantastic and will allow a range of aquatic and marginal plants to flourish along with the lots of invertebrates and other wildlife;
- on a smaller scale – de-silting and re-profiling of 200m of ditch and re-creation of a ditch which had been filled in during the last century on a 1.5 Ha smallholding on the Dengemarsh Road.
- Alongside these works we have carried out some sensitive tree-planting to diversify the habitats available and planted a range of flowering plants favoured by pollinators in the ditches.
These examples demonstrate very well the value of working with landholdings of all sizes across the marsh to get the message across that with some extra planning and investment ditches can be both great for farm businesses whilst at the same time providing a valuable resource for wildlife for years to come.
We have also worked with the Town Council, the Internal Drainage Board and the Football Club right at the heart of the New Romney community to provide a lasting beneficial legacy. On one side of the football ground on Station Road is an unloved ditch with a sad story – for years this ditch has been an eyesore, plagued by fly-tipping of household furniture, wooden fencing and other bulky items. This rubbish load combined with the natural fall of branches and leaves from many willow trees resulted in the ditch becoming blocked and the water stagnant. The willow trees were very large and so almost no light was able to reach the bottom of the ditch and there were very few species of plants or animals – a ditch in very poor condition.
There were no funds available to restore the ditch which is where the Fifth Continent came in – over the last 2 years, we have pollarded willows, removed many of the larger trees, dug the ditch, removed the rubbish in cooperation with the local litter-picking group and by the end of March 2021 the ditch was once again ready for wildlife to move back in and local people to value and enjoy.
The third component of the project has always been about sharing information and starting conversations with landowners around the value of their ditches and the steps they can take to improve them for wildlife.
As well as numerous one to one conversations, the project has also organised farmer oriented meetings in collaboration with the Romney Marsh Farm Cluster, including:
- a workshop on ditch management in June 2019;
- a workshop in February 2020 to discuss farm clusters & working with biodiversity;
- and more recently in February 2021 a meeting to discuss what farmers need to do to get ready for the new Environmental Land Management scheme from the UK government which starts in 2022.
There have been some really interesting discussions and farmers have brought many ideas to the table – both the benefits as well as the downsides of changing the way they farm.
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Blue Lanes project contributes to the Restore project theme.
To find out more including how to get involved contact the project team.