The Stour Valley with its mix of riverside water meadows, wheat fields & woodland on the borders of Suffolk & Essex was immortalised in the 19thc by the paintings of John Constable & before him Thomas Gainsborough.
Today that same area between Bures & the estuary is preserved as the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We are a group of twenty six farmers who collectively own the 8,000 hectares or 20,000 acres of land that makes up nearly all of the AONB and its proposed upstream extension. Between us we produced last year about 26,000 tons of sugar beet, 29,000 tons of vegetables & 15,000 tons of cereals and maize. We also fattened several hundred cattle & sheep : & we harvested 465 of the cricket bat willows that are now so characteristic of the valley, which will in turn be shaped to make 6,500 cricket bats. We also felled & sold 350 tons of other timber as part of our long term woodland regeneration plans.
We have come together as a Cluster – more formally since spring 2019 – to enable conservation effort on a landscape scale and to promote biodiversity in the Dedham Vale, so that we help safeguard it for future generations. Two thirds of our collective land is already in a Higher Level Stewardship scheme, but we believe that together we can do much more for nature & intend to do so. Our priority is to combine agricultural productivity on the best arable land with conservation & biodiversity recovery on a landscape scale across the whole.
We are learning from other Farmer Clusters & have engaged an ecologist who is an experienced farm conservation advisor as our Facilitator.
We will continue to steward & if feasible increase our 1,900 hectares of riverside grazing & valley pasture, our 900 hectares of woodland, our 310 kms of hedges & the 95 ponds & lakes in the catchment. And of course to husband the 50 kms of river bank (Stour, Box & Brett) & 90 kms of footpaths & bridle ways of which we are custodians.
We have defined key indicator species – including lapwing, barn owl, English partridge, hedgehog, water vole, pollinating insects & native black poplars – and we will be seeking to expand the habitat that will encourage the gradual increase of those species & the overall biodiversity of the Stour Valley.
Our member group includes the Suffolk Wildlife Trust who own Ager Fen at the west end of the catchment & the RSPB who own the Cattawade Marshes at the east end- plus the National Trust around Flatford Mill & Dedham. We benefit from their support & advice, as we do from the Stour Valley & Dedham Vale team, the Environment Agency, the Essex Wildlife Trust, the Natural England officers and the Forestry Commission.