Natural Capital Group

Nothing is more important to this society than preserving natural capital. People need nature to survive, to thrive.

Harrison Ford (actor)

The Burrough Court Estate is located on the border between Leicestershire and Rutland, and comprises 1,200 acres of land, a range of business units, and a very dedicated team of land owners and workers.

The Sustainable Land Trust made Burrough Court Estate its home in 2014 and we work in partnership with the landowners and farm contractors.  The Trust are the land agents for the 350 acres of habitat and woodland, and we manage the Natural England Mid Tier Countryside Stewardship and Woodland Management schemes on the estate.

Together we have formed our own Natural Capital Group where we plan and manage the landscape to maximise its ecosystem services.

We are mapping the farm’s natural resources, identifying biodiversity hot spots and areas of fragility; we have created new ecosystems and restored old ones.

We use our skills and expertise as sustainable land managers to address issues such as climate change, flooding, water and soil pollution, ecosystem function, and biodiversity loss.

Our approach is to ensure that each project or activity achieves maximum ecosystem services and to help us we work closely with our research partners at Loughborough University.

Water Catchment Sensitive Farming

In 2015 the Trust and the Estate collaborated with Natural England and the Environment Agency to attract grant funding under the Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative to make improvements at Pickwell Farm in relation to soil and water run off and pollution.  The farm is within the River Eye SSSI impact zone; the river itself being an excellent example of a semi-natural lowland river. Sediment, and the pollution it carries has an adverse effect on the SSSI, resulting in it failing to achieve favourable condition. A Soil Husbandry Plan and Water Management Plan were developed with recommendations for creation of swales, improved field drainage systems and tracks, which were undertaken in 2015 and 2016.

Image result for american signal crayfish ukThe Trust have identified issues with American Signal Crayfish and since 2017 have been running a research programme to identify population size within the brook around the Burrough Court farm.  An active eradication programme is in place with a significant amount of crayfish being removed from the system each year.

Environmental Stewardship

In 2016 the organisations worked together to develop biodiversity, water, and soil pollution improvements as part of a Natural England Mid Tier Environmental Stewardship scheme.  This included large scale capital and management improvements to habitats to be carried out on the Pickwell Farm over a 10 year period.  Statutory organisations including the Environment Agency, Natural England and Leicestershire County Council were closely involved in the process and it was recognised that the stewardship plans were holistic in their approach to address multiple and integrated environmental issues including on and off site impacts, landscape scale approaches to reduce fragmentation, and implementation of new approaches.  The plan included the following elements, which in turn created opportunities for research and the development of mini projects.

  • Extended habitat and wildlife corridors for wild birds and insects to provide important food resources for farmland birds, especially in autumn and winter – Total: 4.737 ha
  • Improved hedgerow maintenance methods to increase blossom availability for invertebrates, provide a vital source of food for over-wintering birds by allowing fruit and berries to ripen, and improve the structure and longevity of hedgerows – Total: 715m.
  • Management of 6m buffer strips to provide new habitat, protect existing landscape features and contribute to improving water quality – Total 2.152ha
  • Management of buffer zones to woodland edges to allow a scrub and grass mosaic to develop on the strip of land adjacent to woodland – Total: 0.170ha
  • Creation of 12-24metre buffer strips to protect water courses to reduce the risk of transport of potential pollutants, such as sediment, nutrients (principally phosphate) and pesticides, to watercourses- Total: 0.669ha
  • Hedgerow laying, coppicing and gapping up to rejuvenate/ restore to achieve a continuous length of hedge – Total: 2.305km
  • Increased planting of hedges to reduce fragmentation and create further wildlife corridors using locally occurring native species – Total 1.705km
  • Improved flood management techniques using natural methods to slow water in ditches to allow pollutants to settle out and improve water quality and reduce downstream flooding: Total 6 silt filtration dams (leaky dams)
  • Improvements in access routes to alleviate compaction and erosion problems caused by machinery movements – Total: 350m
  • Creation of new sediment pond where muddy run-off from fields is allowed to pond so sediment will settle out– Total: 0.0080ha
  • Coppicing of bankside trees to benefit bankside habitat by restorative coppicing of overgrown trees – Total: 91 trees

Woodland Management

In 2018, the existing woodland management plan was reviewed to provide a structured approach to maximising the ecological value of the woodland habitats, whilst realising the potential to facilitate education and raise environmental awareness among people, with an emphasis on vulnerable groups.

The objectives being:

  • Improve structural diversity and ecological value through rotational coppicing
  • Improve woodland structure for game birds through planting of native woody shrubs
  • Manage woodlands for the sustainable extraction and sale of firewood
  • Maximise social and educational value of woodlands through operating educational training and visits, prioritising vulnerable groups
  • Increase numbers and diversity of woodland bird species from 2016 baseline.

Public Benefit

Many of the measures taken to improve the environmental status of the farm also create benefits to the public: such as the reduction of flood and pollution to watercourses.  Other public benefits include the ability for people to access the farms using the Public Footpath network which enables people to benefit from views of the local landscape, and appreciation of the wildlife found locally.

Since 2015, the Sustainable Land Trust have been delivering environmental education and training to almost 70 vulnerable adults and young people.  This has resulted in significant benefits to the public in reductions in costs and resources to address mental and physical illness, reduction in crime, reduction in alcohol and drug dependency, improvement in educational outcomes, re-integration of individuals into society, and the creation of jobs.

The Trust has created between £5,000 and £7,000 reductions in NHS costs per person, per year (NEF, 2013). In broad terms this equates to a minimum saving to the NHS alone of £490,000 (beneficiaries may attend for multiple years, thus increasing the savings made). This does not include cost savings made to crime and community safety boards as a result of improvements in behaviour and attitudes to responsibility.

In addition, the Trust, as an accredited City & Guilds Training Centre, has provided 60 young people with qualifications recognised by schools and the government as alternatives to GCSE’s.  These qualifications have improved knowledge and skills in the rural land and environmental sector and have contributed to learner’s wider understanding of sustainability and their role within natural systems. In particular, the Trust have used natural resources occurring on the farm to teach small scale enterprise and artisan skills such as greenwood working, stone masonry, forage cooking, livestock management, horticultural production, firewood production.

The Sustainable Land Trust also works with a range of universities to identify and undertake research projects and are members of the Nuffield Scholarship programme and the National Union of Students Sustainability Research programme, to which each the Trust provides research topics and placements for undergraduate and post graduate students.