Secretary of State visits Landscape Recovery Project in the Kent Downs to make first announcement since appointment

Chalk stream with open fields, overhanging trees and blue skies with white clouds

1st December 2023

On Tuesday, 28th November, newly appointed, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs set his sights on the Darent Valley to meet with farmers, project partners and Kent Downs National Landscape to talk about Landscape Recovery Projects, announcing a rollout across the country of further schemes.

During the visit, the Minister announced a new package of measures including launching a search for a new National Park, 34 new landscape recovery projects and funding to help more children get outdoors and into the great British countryside.

©Tim Horton, Kent Wildlife Trust

The Darent Valley Nature Recovery Project was established as a pilot last year after the Kent Downs National Landscape awarded a Farming in Protected Landscapes grant. It is a culmination of work between the Darent Valley Farmer Cluster and supported by Kent Wildlife Trust, Kent Downs National Landscape, South East Rivers Trust, North West Kent Countryside Partnership, and the Environment Agency.

The theme of the project is River Restoration seeking to protect and restore the River Darent, a globally rare chalk stream, facing many threats and challenges, not least low flows due to aquifer abstraction and climate change. The project will examine how the river could be made to function more naturally, with varied flows and speeds, and freer of sediment to support a wider range of species using Natural Flood Management techniques.

Over the past year, the farmers have worked with partners to develop plans to improve biodiversity, flood mitigation, and drought resilience. The group has been working on a range of natural solutions to create more diverse habitats, slow the flow of water, reduce flash flooding, and build areas of temporary water storage. This in turn will help to recharge the chalk aquifers which produce clear water.

The River Darent is one of about only 210 chalk streams in the world. It should offer clear and cool water that supports an abundance of wildlife. However, historical modifications have left it over-straightened and fragmented: there are 51 barriers to fish being able to pass along the river network. This project will examine how the river could be made to function more naturally, with varied flows and speeds, freer of sediment to support a wider range of species.

©Tim Horton, Kent Wildlife Trust

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said:

“Nature is at the foundation of food production, water security, and is critical to our economy, and our mental and physical health. It is why it is so important to deliver on our commitment to halt the decline of nature and safeguard at least 30 percent of our extraordinary landscapes. Through our Environmental Improvement Plan and today’s announcement, we are creating more opportunities for people to access nature, spend time outdoors and enjoy our beautiful countryside – as well as supporting wildlife. A healthy natural environment is critical for our wellbeing, our economy and combatting climate change.”    

Kent Downs National Landscape’s Nick Johannsen, Director said:

“We were delighted to host the new Secretary of State in the Kent Downs National Landscape, and in the Darent Valley. The Valley is a beautiful tranquil place, a jewel in the Kent Downs. We and many partners have been working for many years in the Valley to conserve, enhance and share the beauty of this place. The Kent Wildlife Trust is an important partner to us and the farmers and land managers in the valley. Kent Downs projects in the valley range from barn owl boxes to miles of path improvement, rail trails to conservation grazing, retreats in nature for NHS workers to Natural Flood Management solutions. We were delighted to hear Government’s continued commitment to conserving and enhancing the Kent Downs with new resources and strengthened duties.”

Kent Wildlife Trust’s Marc Crouch, Darent Valley Landscape Recovery Project Manager said:

“It is encouraging that the government recognise the huge value that projects like this have, not only in terms of nature recovery but also in food production.”

Farm vehicles in green fields in Chevening Estate

DEFRA’s Farming in Protected Landscapes Programme is funding over 200 different projects nationwide in National Parks and National Landscapes. There are a wide range of projects including wildflower margins, soil carbon measurement, orchard repair,  habitat connectivity, farm education for children, wheelchair accessible footpaths and many others.

Kent Downs National Landscape has Farming in Protected Landscapes funding available for 2024-25. If you are a farmer, landowner or land manager in the Kent Downs we can support you to carry out project that:

  • Support nature recovery,
  • Mitigate the impacts of climate change,
  • Provide opportunities for people to discover, enjoy and understand the landscape and cultural heritage,
  • Support nature-friendly, sustainable farm businesses.

To get advice from a member of the Kent Downs National Landscape team and apply for a Farming in Protected Landscapes grant, get in touch with us below.

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