Sustainable Landscapes

The Sustainable Landscapes programme, launched in July 2018, brings together groups of forward-thinking arable farmers to explore sustainable farming practices that will positively benefit soil health and ultimately improve water quality in specific river catchments. Working in close association with Yorkshire Water, three pilot study areas were selected to demonstrate how well changes in soil management could improve major issues surrounding water quality. The three study areas provide a unique platform for demonstrating and developing practical methods of regenerating soil. Lead by innovative, progressive, dedicated farmers, these pilot areas are championing techniques designed to safeguard water quality, farm productivity and environmental values.

Good Soil Guide, Sustainable Landscapes Innovation Group Lead Graham Potter

Graham Potter farms 500 acres at Topcliffe near Thirsk. He grows wheat, barley, oilseed rape and a small amount of fodder beet. Graham is a huge enthusiast of precision farming techniques and has embraced much of the very latest technology enabling him to farm efficiently and profitably, whilst at the same time reducing his impact on the environment. He has also been intrumental in pioneering cover cropping and establishment technques.

Graham Potter
Good Soil Guide, Sustainable Landscapes Innovation Group Leader David Blacker

Dave Blacker farms around 890ha on a mix of family-owned, rented and stubble to stubble contracts based at Shipton By Beningbrough, just north of York. His current rotation is wheat, oilseed rape, wheat and spring beans. David grows feed wheat, chops all his straw and is using cover crops to improve soil structure and add organic matter to fields before spring beans. David is particularly interested in precision farming and improving his soils organic matter and structure.

Dave Blacker
Good Soil Guide, Sustainable Landscapes Innovation Lead Richard Bramley

Richard farms 230 hectares of winter and spring barley, milling wheat, sugar beet, potatoes and peas at Kelfield near York and is also Chair of the NFU Environment Forum. A previous winner of the RSPB Nature of Farming Award (Northern). Attention to the Farmed Environment is also a keen focus; with good recorded results on bio-diversity alongside productive and profitable farming. Alongside his arable operations, Richard is involved in a diverse range of environmental work on his farm, he is also actively engaged with food and farming related university research and education.

Richard Bramley

The Sustainable Landscapes programme is all about improving soil health and water quality for more resilient and profitable farmingThe programme, initially in 3 pilot areas, will trial new ways to improve soils physical structure and biological health. Using novel technologies that optimise production whilst lowering inputs, a combination that will help in the longer term to improve the financial resilience of those farming businesses involved. The Sustainable Landscapes Programme plans to help improve water quality by reducing the volume of soil erosion and the levels of nutrients and pesticides within the water courses.

The Project, conceived and delivered by Future Food Solutions, is sponsored by Yorkshire Water and has evolved out of the Sustainable Futures programme which has been running for 3 years, now involving more than 200 Yorkshire farmers. Yorkshire Water working with Future Food Solutions are keen to find a way to work more collaboratively with these farmers and through improved relationships develop a partnership approach to tackling some of the key issues they face around water quality.

The programme was inspired by the success of the Upland Land Management Programme which focused on improving the quality of Blanket Bog, where landowners, farmers, gamekeepers and the water company, worked together collaboratively to deliver mutual benefits for all.

The Sustainable Landscapes Programme will adopt some of the partnering methods trialled in this model, and the learnings from Sustainable Futures which has delivered process change in the lowland arable areas of Yorkshire, which are illustrated in this short video.

Good Soil Guide Sustainable Landscapes video,

Yorkshire Water working with Future Food Solutions have identified that, one way to improve water condition, is by looking back within the value chain and recognising the close correlation that water tested downstream has with local area soil health. The Programme will work with farmers to improve soil organic matter, utilising a range of different approaches, depending on soil type and cropping. Soil with a high organic matter content, can hold more water following rain and prevent surface run off that leads to soil erosion and valuable nutrients entering the waterways. Also soil with higher organic matter levels is more resilient to drought, helping to maintain crop yields in dry seasons.

Sustainable Landscapes will support the increased use of cover crops, new cultivation ideas and precision farming techniques that will increase and conserve soil organic matter. The Programme will also encourage the uptake of new ways to control pests and diseases, particularly slugs. One area of focus of the programme in the longer term, is to replace the use of Metaldehyde pellets as a method of slug control.

The connection through the Programme with soil scientists, Precision Decisions and Farm Plan, will help farmers measure soil quality more accurately. They will also be able to manage crop inputs more precisely to maximise yields, improve margins and reduce nutrient losses into the waterways. The programme will illustrate how the farmer can benefit commercially. How the rural environment will be enhanced by lowering the use of chemicals and how water quality can be improved by keeping nutrients and pesticide inputs on the fields, where they are most effective.

Sustainable Landscapes Pilot Areas 

1. Topcliffe

Located 5 miles to the south west of Thirsk and adjacent to the River Swale, the Topcliffe Pilot Area is part of the catchment which eventually flows into the River Ouse, entering the North Sea via the Humber estuary. The Pilot Lead Farmer, Graham Potter, farms in partnership with his father Terry at Baldersby Park where the river forms one of the farm boundaries. The Pilot Area has 15 farmer members, most of whom undertake arable farming activities close geographically to the Pilot lead farm.

2. Shipton

Located to the North West of York, the Shipton by Beningbrough Pilot is led by David Blacker who is based at Church Farm in the village. The land tends to be slightly heavier than farmers experience at the Topcliffe pilot further north, however similar crop rotations are undertaken. Geographically, the Pilot Area is located close to the River Ouse and David’s farm is bordered at one side by Hurns Gutter; another small tributary leading into the Ouse. The Pilot Area has a wide-ranging membership of farming individuals with some members undertaking beef & pig operations, sharing knowledge alongside arable specialists.

3. Elvington

Situated to the south east of York, the Elvington Pilot Area is centred at Grimston Grange in Heslington which is the family farm of the Hopwood family. The Pilot Farm sits equidistant between the River Ouse to the west and the River Derwent to the East. The Pilot Area is within a zone of particular importance in terms of surface water management; Yorkshire Water have treatment facilities four miles away at Elvington where they extract water from the River Derwent prior to treatment and onward distribution elsewhere in Yorkshire. The Pilot Area has 12 members, all of whom farm in the surrounding area with potatoes, carrots and other root crops included within the rotation in addition to the commodities grown in the other Pilot Areas.

Good Soil Guide

The Sustainable Landscapes intitiative is a collaborative, landscape-based programme initiated by Future Food Solutions in partnership with Yorkshire Water. Working closely with farmers, the programme aims to improve the health of farmland soils, by encouraging the use of cost-effective, practical, soil management techniques that bring benefits at farm and landscape scale to create a more resilient and profitable agricultural industry

  • CHAMPION INNOVATION - Ensuring that soil quality is measured, valued and improved by accessing novel technology that uses key inputs effectively. 
  • WORK COLLABORATIVELY - Encouraging collaboration and knowledge exchange for the benefit of both the landscape and food supply chain partners.
  • MANAGE WATER EFFECTIVELY - Learning from best practice to improve the water holding capacity of soil, build resilience into crops, reduce leaching and minimise erosion.
  • PROFIT FROM SUSTAINABILITY - Managing farm resources efficiently, improving the resilience of the landscape and supporting commercially viable businesses.
Good Soil Guide

Driven by Farmers

The Sustainable Landscapes initiative was designed by farmers and industry experts working together to deliver practical soil management options that bring benefits at field, farm and landscape level.

Good Soil Guide

Practical by Nature 

Demonstrating how different cultivation, cover crop and soil management options can be implemented, and monitoring the effects of these options on soils, crops, water and wildlife, sits at the heart of the project. 

Good Soil Guide

Targeted by Design

Having clear soil, water and agronomic targets ensures that every action is carefully implemented, monitored and assessed, so that every positive improvement can be clearly identified, refined and developed.


Good Soil Guide

“Keeping soils healthy and where they belong is good for the environment; the resilience and profitability of farming and improves the water we treat for our customers. Sustainable Landscapes is a platform to share, develop and implement best practice within and by the farming community. We believe it has the potential to make a real difference where everybody wins, not least the environment”.

Andrew Walker
Catchment Strategy Manager, Yorkshire Water
Good Soil Guide


The Good Soil Guide is designed as a platform for discussion, innovation and technical support for farmers seeking to adopt regenerative, sustainable, environmentally positive soil management practices, and has been made possible thanks to the generous support of our sponsors.  

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