New habitat in the Nene Valley

Rotary ditcher Nene Valley by Caroline Fitton

The country's only rotary ditcher machine has been hard at work in the Nene Valley creating a swathe of ditches and channels - new habitats for breeding and overwintering wading birds

A unique piece of equipment called a rotary ditcher has been busy in Northamptonshire over the past week creating swathes of channels and shallow ditches totalling more than 7km across farm land and nature reserves in the Nene Valley for breeding and overwintering wading birds. The only one of its kind in the country, the ditcher was bought from America in 2013 by the RSPB, and is now hired out for wetland conservation projects via contractors RC Baker, based in Banbury.

With the use of LIDAR mapping (an acronym of light detection and ranging: a surveying method measuring distance by illuminating the target with laser light, measuring reflected light with a sensor to build up a digital 3D representation, see below), the Trust have been planning the optimum area to create these channels for the past year.

Matt Johnson, the Trust's Living Landscape Manager for Northamptonshire said: “The rotary ditcher project has been a fantastic opportunity to work with six local farmers to create over 7km of ditches and 10 scrapes across the Nene Valley thanks to the Farming for the Future project part of the National Lottery Heritage Funded Nenescape project. The work on the ground is the conclusion of a year’s work of planning and partnership working and restores wetland features to priority breeding wader sites identified by the Trust in 2002. It's been great to see the enthusiasm for the project from both the farmers and other conservation organisations working in the valley and we are delighted with the dramatic changes to the sites. We look forward to seeing the results of the work next spring when the wetland features should be providing prime habitat encouraging waders such as lapwing and redshank (both of which have declined in the valley) to stay and breed.”


Lidar map Peartree Farm by Caroline Fitton

Lidar map Peartree Farm by Caroline Fitton

At Peartree Farm, Aldwincle in a field belonging to farmer Tim Hankins, the rotary ditcher was operated by driver Dan Doyley, who first set the laser equipment - one machine on a step ladder, which sends signals to a receiver on the back of the ditcher. Roaring into action, once the ditcher lowers the central cutting blade to dig a channel to the depth set by the laser, turf and earth fly dramatically from the extractor shoot, widely distributed onto the surrounding area. ITV Anglia News came along to film the uniqe machine in action.

Tim Hankins has been putting wildlife friendly practices into action at Peartree Farm for nearly three decades and embraced the opportunity to create the new habitats: "We are custodians of the land for future generations, I've always enjoyed the wildlife side of the farm and have been following wildlife schemes for the past 27 years - planting in hedges, creating wildlife corridors. By summer this field will be greened in again and we look forward to seeing the birds; we'll always do the best we can for wildlife."

Farming for the Future is a three year project working with farmers and landowners in the Nene Valley from Northampton to Peterborough funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund through Nenescape to help restore and create meadow and wetland habitats as well as undertake vital infrastructural improvements to tackle diffuse pollution & aid water quality. Farming is at a time of change with the implications of Brexit and the push for more environmentally friendly methods being adopted.