Dearne Valley Farmers

Partners:Yorkshire Water, Natural England, Environment Agency, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
Key outcomesBiodiversity enhancement, soil health, water quality, NFM, peer-to-peer learning, knowledge sharing, advice and assistance.
Group members38
Land area6,200 hectares (15,300 acres)

Formed in May 2022, the Dearne Valley Farmers cluster group brings farmers together from across the catchment to learn about environmental grant schemes and sustainable farming practices. Farmer-led, the cluster covers topics such as soil health, water quality, carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture, biodiversity enhancement and natural flood management. By working collaboratively, we can improve our farmed area and deliver bigger, better and more joined up landscape-scale nature recovery.

The project is run as a partnership with partners Tyers Hall Farm, the Yorkshire Farming and Wildlife Partnership and the Don Catchment Rivers Trust. By working in this way, we’ve been able to develop and deliver more joined-up projects, including a Natural England Nature Recovery funded “Hedges & Edges” project and an Environment Agency funded grassland aerator machinery sharing scheme. The Yorkshire Water funding has enabled us to offer members of the cluster a free advice visit, run 11 training events, carry out detailed soil testing and complete bird surveys for baseline monitoring. The cluster also provides the opportunity for farmers to be part of a wider community during a time when farming is changing.

Want to get involved? Contact Jenny Palmer, the Trust’s Agricultural Officer via [email protected] or see below for examples of our work in action!

Soil Health and Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture helps to improve soil health which in turn promotes healthy crops and water.  Increasing soil organic matter and reducing soil compaction improves water infiltration and soil water and carbon storage capacity.  Improving soil biological activity also encourages better nutrient cycling and reduces the need for artificial inputs and pesticides. This further helps with better water quality by preventing inputs and pesticides from running off land and into water courses.

Soi sampling equipment.

Cluster members meeting at a farm to see the results of regenerative farming practices.


DCRT likes to use alternative engagement tools to work with partners. One of our more interesting activities is the #soilyourundies campaign. Members of the farmer cluster were provided a set of cotton underpants and an information pack about soil health. The farmers were then invited to bury the underpants in a field where soil microbes consume the natural cotton. The underpants are then exhumed and the amount of material which remains provides a good indicator of soil health.

Whilst this may raise a few eyebrows, cluster members are able to compare results and consider the farming practices of other farms, and why their soil health is different.


Rob Laybourn, Elmsall Lodge Farm and Jenny Palmer, Don Catchment Rivers Trust participating in the #soilyourundies campaign.

Biodiversity Priorities and Countryside Stewardship

Local priority species include Yellow Wagtail, Lapwing, Curlew, Grey Partridge and the nationally rare Willow Tit.  The project offers cluster members a free tailored Countryside Stewardship or Sustainable Farming Incentive farm advice visit from cluster adviser Ann Hanson, of the Yorkshire Farming and Wildlife Partnership.  Ann is experienced in advising in all aspects of farm environment schemes and can help identify which options and actions will help farmland birds and pollinators whilst also complementing farming systems.  In 2023, the cluster project commissioned four breeding bird surveys and the results have been used to provide tailored habitat improvement advice to benefit farmland birds. 

Hedgerows are a local landscape priority and arable field margins are a local priority habitat.  Hedges provide food, shelter and nesting for wildlife such as yellowhammer, bats and hedgehogs.  Working with hedgelayer Jasper Prachek, the cluster’s “Hedges & Edges” mini-project promoted best practice hedge and edge management and outputs included running practical and technical hedgelaying training events, hedgelaying and installing seven barn owl boxes. 

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Willow tit (Poecile montanus) ©Ian Bollen. Flickr

Natural Flood Management

In the wake of the climate emergency, it has been recognised that land within our catchment offers the potential to provide flood mitigation, through the use of natural flood management (NFM).

As well as helping reduce flood risk, NFM can help increase biodiversity, improve water quality and sequester carbon. Responding to South Yorkshire’s major flooding incident in 2019, the cluster is exploring opportunities to support the work of the Connected by Water South Yorkshire Action Plan.

In 2023, the cluster group was awarded Yorkshire Regional Flood & Coastal Committee funding to run an aerator machinery sharing scheme.

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