Sustainable Landscapes Humber Project

An innovative farming project is using ‘pop-up rainforests’ to fight climate change, boost soil quality and potentially help alleviate flooding in East Yorkshire.

Sustainable Landscapes Humber's team standing in a field of growing peas.

Sustainable Landscapes Humber’s story

Farmers across East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire are using 'pop up rainforests' to help with climate change. The Sustainable Landscapes Humber Project is using cover crops to increase soil organic matter, increasing carbon capture from the atmosphere, and to improve soil structure so that it holds more water, helping to reduce flood risk.

The project is a collaboration between Yorkshire Water, Birds Eye, Future Food Solutions and Teesside and Hull Universities, with over 40 farmers from across the region taking part by growing cover crops between harvesting and sowing. These cover crops (grown to cover the soil rather than to be harvested) comprise a diverse range of plants, chosen for their ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere which is then locked in around the root – like a rainforest, only faster!

Soil organic matter has fallen by 50% in the UK over the past 60 years, so using cover crops to restore these levels not only has the potential to re-establish soil health, but could also help contribute to reversing the ongoing rise in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Andrew Walker, Asset Strategy Manager for Yorkshire Water, said “Growing cover crops to increase soil organic matter is one of the most effective ways of combatting the major environmental issues we face today. In just seven weeks, they generate enough carbon-sequestering organic material to make a significant dent in atmospheric CO2”.

Trials for the project, which is being funded by Yorkshire Water and overseen by the UK Birds Eye Agricultural Team, have already more than doubled levels of soil organic matter in just five years, from 3% to over 6%. They have shown that growing cover crops can increase soil organic matter by up to 40 tonnes per hectare, thereby removing more than four tonnes of atmospheric carbon each year.

The research also shows that achieving just a 1% increase in soil organic matter would enable agricultural land to store an extra 200,000 litres of water per hectare, significantly reducing flood risk.

Useful learnings from Sustainable Landscapes Humber

The increase in organic matter means less farm inputs are required, enabling farmers to grow food more efficiently and profitably.

As well as adding soil organic matter, the cover plants’ root structure holds the topsoil in place, reducing erosion.

The Sustainable Landscapes Humber Project is a great example of collaboration and could be replicated right across the UK.

Sustainable Landscapes Humber’s metrics

Increase in soil organic matter.
Reduction in farm inputs.
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