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    Work begins on new paludiculture farming system at Harper Adams

    Posted 5 September 2023

    Ana and Scott preparing the site at Adeney Yard (full picture)

    Work to develop an innovative paludiculture – or wet peat farming - system on the Harper Adams University Future Farm is well underway – and is set to be detailed at two events later this month.

    The Paludiculture Innovation Project at Harper Adams University has been funded with a share of a £5 million UK Government fund aimed at solving challenges with lowland peat.

    The work will use Adeney Yard, a peat soil field on the University estate, as an exemplar plot where the new farming approaches will be trialled. Ultimately, the aim is for findings from work at Adeney and elsewhere to establish Harper Adams as the UK’s first research, development, demonstration and knowledge transfer facility for paludiculture.

    The project’s Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Ana IM Natalio, Executive Project and Programme Consultant Scott Kirby, and Lecturer in Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Land Management Dr Julia Casperd recently gathered at the field to work out the best way to build a hydrological unit on site.

    The design is heavily dependent upon the topography, soil profiles and drainage among many other factors. Recent explorations of the soil profiles have taken place across the site, and Scott Kirby explained: “As was expected they were hugely variable. We spent a fascinating day taking a trip back through time to when the Weald Moors were first formed around 22,000 years ago, exploring glacial moraine and the till deposits of sand and clay.”

    Ana Natalio added: “The dramatic soil profiles were simply stunning. Our project science team, led by Dr Simon Jeffery, will be explaining this process during the afternoon site visit at our Paludiculture Symposium on September 13 - and we will be sharing our vision and ideas regarding best industry practise for setting up the site.”

    The Paludiculture Symposium is the first of two days exploring science and techniques related to paludiculture, both globally and at Harper Adams. Hosted alongside the North Shropshire Farming Cluster, the Symposium will see LEAF – the charity which helps inspire and enable sustainable farming and a partner on the project – explaining how a LEAF Marque standard will be developed for paludiculture.

    With farmers, UK and international peatland experts, and academic input from Harper Adams and beyond, the symposium will examine best practice, farming innovation and barriers to paludiculture.

    The following day, on September 14, will see the hosting of the Restoration of lowland peatland for Ecosystem Services Conference – the second in a series of conferences examining the restoration of peat for ecosystem services. It will feature speakers from Natural England, the Aqualate Catchment Group, LEAF, REESETS, and academics from Bangor University, St Andrews University, and Harper Adams.

    Others involved with the conference and the wider development of paludiculture at Harper Adams include the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Severn Trent Water – who have been closely involved with the design, planning and ongoing development of the Adeney Yard facility – the Agri-EPI Centre, and the Harper Adams School of Sustainable Food and Farming. 

    A keynote speech from Lord Deben, who served as Secretary of State for the Environment and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food during his career in Government, will open the conference.

    Julia Casperd said: “We are honoured to have Lord Deben as the key note speaker at our conference on lowland peatlands at Harper Adams University this year.

    “Lord Deben has spent the last 11 years – until very recently - chairing the Climate Change Committee that holds the UK to account with respect to the UK’s climate change agenda.

    “Although he feels that the UK is moving far too slowly with regards to climate change, he has also reflected positively about global progress and motivations towards emission reductions.

    “We are really looking forward to hosting him as part of this, our second lowland peatlands conference.”

    The Symposium and Conference are both free – more information, including programmes for the day, can be found on the Symposium here and on the Conference here.

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