THE QUALITY of water sourced from an important drinking water borehole is being protected thanks to small-scale changes to farming practices resulting from a Farming Connect-facilitated collaboration between farmers and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water.
Welsh Water extracts water from the Morfa Bychan borehole near Pendine which supplies 8,000 people in the Carmarthenshire area. By working in partnership with farmers in the land surrounding Morfa Bychan, Welsh Water can better safeguard water quality before it reaches the treatment works in Pendine. This helps them keep bills low, safeguard the environment and protect our drinking water sources for generations to come.
Some of the land that drains into the borehole is farmed and has multiple sinkholes, natural features which can cause activities taking place above ground to impact on groundwater.
In 2017, Welsh Water approached Menter a Busnes, which delivers the Farming Connect Knowledge Transfer, Innovation and Advisory Service, for help in working with farmers to find win/win solutions to improving water quality issues and an Agrisgôp group was formed.
Agrisgôp is a fully-funded action learning programme that brings together forward-thinking, like-minded individuals from farm and forestry businesses at a local level.
Agrisgôp leader Lilwen Joynson established the Pendine group which includes seven dairy farmers and a beef producer from an area of land which drains into the drinking water borehole.
A series of on-farm meetings, a visit to the local water treatment works and discussions facilitated by Ms Joynson led to identifying a number of solutions that would benefit both the farmers and the water environment.
“The farmers were very clear about the problem and what they could do collectively to manage and measure it’’ she said.
For Roy Bevan, who milks 500 cows at East Pool Farm, it means he now only spreads slurry and muck on his land outside the water catchment. In periods of heavy rain, he manages his land to ensure that any potential run-off is diverted away from a stream that feeds the borehole.
Mr Bevan said the approach facilitated by Agrisgôp is one he would recommend to other farmers. “Collectively discussing the issues with Welsh Water with an independent facilitator has been a very positive experience, Lilwen did an excellent job,’’ he said.
Another member of the group, dairy farmer David Tremellen, of Tremoilet Farm, said the exercise had focused his mind on how land management practices could impact on water quality and is now more aware of the issue. “A visit to the water treatment works made us aware of how big and expensive a problem it can be for the plant to process poor quality raw water. That is something we would not have been aware of before getting involved in this initiative.’’
Mr Tremellen, who milks 470 cows on an all-year around calving system, acknowledged that farmers can at times be fearful when issues relating to water quality are raised but that the Agrisgôp approach had alleviated concerns.
“We would not have met with Welsh Water and Natural Resources Wales with the same mindset if it had not been for Agrisgôp,’’ he said.
The initiative had been a good example of self-regulation by farmers in their responsibilities for managing the environment, said Ms Joynson.
“Farmers were able to share best practice and put themselves at the forefront of managing local water quality for future generations,’’ she added.
Although the Agrisgôp group has now disbanded, the farmers are continuing to meet with Welsh Water to ensure water quality is considered when undertaking land management practices in the area.
Farming Connect continues to support the farmers through its development officer for South Pembrokeshire, Susie Morgan, with initiatives such as soil sampling and conductivity scanning to inform the possible introduction of precision farming techniques in the future. This is Phase 3 of a programme of work which involves providing support or resources to implement a collaborative approach to improve and protect water quality at our borehole at Morfa Bychan.
Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and Welsh Government.