Shropshire Star

Scheme helps Shropshire farmers to keep a step ahead

Mixed farmer Stephen Rawlings has explored environmental-based funding options as his business has evolved in recent decades.

Stephen Rawlings has made the most of Severn Trent's STEPS funding at Cheshire Coppice Farm

And he said he’s found most success by tapping into Severn Trent’s Environmental Protection Scheme (STEPS).

Mr Rawlings, from Cheshire Coppice Farm near Admaston, Telford, has worked closely with his local Severn Trent agricultural adviser, Cath Edwards. And he now has substantial areas of former arable and grazing land in STEPS.

Over the past three years, this scheme has awarded £5.6 million of match funding to farmers looking to boost their environmental credentials.

The funding has enabled Mr Rawlings to introduce watercourse fencing, hardstanding areas, a water pump and livestock troughs, as well as biodiversity investment funding via the spring STEPS scheme.

His first STEPS application was for stone to strengthen gateways and water troughs, helping reduce poaching, soil erosion and sediment run-off, as well as preventing lameness in his beef herd and sheep flock.

“It’s been great, it’s lasted really well over three years,” he said.

Watercourse fencing and a solar powered water pump, funded by STEPS, have also been beneficial. He said: “We completely replaced 500 metres of wire fencing to help protect the riparian areas around the River Tern, which runs through our farm. The water pump meant we could supply water to stock in the field instead, providing a safe and clean place to drink from.”

Mr Rawlings said conservation efforts work well within his livestock business.

Receiving spring STEPS funding has helped him to invest in reverting a third of his land from arable cropping to plant biodiversity mixes and herbal leys for grazing his 150 Easycare sheep. He said: “As well as helping the environment, the funding means it’s working financially.

“If we want to bring the land back into production, the schemes are flexible enough that we can.”

Since making this investment, Mr Rawlings has noticed a vast uplift in farmland birds in winter, including breeding barn owls and nesting peewits.

Each of Mr Rawlings’s funding applications involved discussions with Mrs Edwards on what would work best for the farm, prioritising water quality improvements for the area. He said: “It’s been a very smooth process, dealing with a real person who knows our farm system.

“I’ve even suggested to one of Defra’s leads that they should take inspiration from STEPS at the Groundswell event.”

Farmers can apply to the scheme by checking if they are in a priority catchment at 

To increase their chances of a successful application, they should seek advice from their local Severn Trent agricultural adviser on what options would best suit their farm and make the greatest positive impact on the environment.

They should fill out their application online before October 31 for spring STEPS support.

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