Sustainable farming practices appear to be on the rise in Yorkshire, with farmers throughout the region now taking steps to improve soil health and water quality as part of the Sustainable Landscapes initiative that was set up back in 2018.
According to Farmers Weekly, more than 50 farmers in Yorkshire are now working together to improve their soils, which could have a key role to play in tackling flood risks in Hull, as well as improving water quality.
One group of 17 farmers, for example, are farming an area that extends over 10,000ha around the village of Kilham in the Yorkshire Wolds, with cover crops being used to reduce nitrate leaching into a local chalk aquifer.
This chalk stream is an important water source for utility company Yorkshire Water, but nitrate levels are on the rise. Previous studies over the years have, in fact, revealed that 97 per cent of the nitrate in the aquifer is from agriculture.
As well as the use of cover crops, another potential solution could be using an N tester, which helps farmers apply fertilisers based on the needs of the crops, helping them to understand how nitrogen moves in the soil.
Farmers are also able to join a new carbon scheme that enables them to make money from the measures they implement that increase soil carbon, everything from growing catch or cover crops, growing companion crops, reducing cultivations and growing grass leys.
Another benefit of improved soil health is that it is then able to hold more water, which can help reduce local flood risks, thanks to the increase in soil organic matter. Yorkshire Water’s Andrew Walker explained that Hull, for example, has a unique sewage system, as stormwater goes into it because a lot of the city is below the high tideline.
He observed that there is 500,000ha of arable land in the region, so if soil organic matter was increased by one per cent, it would be capable of holding an additional 200t/ha of water – which is a huge amount.
Being so close to water has long been a problem that Hull has had to face – and it is the UK’s most vulnerable city to the effects of flooding, with around 100,000 properties at risk across East Yorkshire.
In 2007, Hull and the East Riding were devastated by floods, while 2013 saw the city hit by a tidal surge in the winter of that year – incidents that led to the creation of Living With Water, made up of Yorkshire Water, Hull City Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the University of Hull and the Environment Agency.
Work has been undertaken over the years to help make the region more resilient, with Hull now a leading authority of flood management matters, with more than £220 million spent on infrastructure between 2015 and 2021.