CANAPE: Progress at Horsey Wet Farming Trial

11 March 2022 - Published by Harry Mach
A 1.3 hectare field (about two football pitches) on the Horsey Estate is testing a new way of farming peatland. The demonstration field will retain water and create connection to the catchment via a controlled slow flow of water through the field, for the first time since land drainage began.

Background facts

The Broads is a last remnant of a vast wetland habitat that covered much of East Anglia 1,000 years ago, before modern drainage changed the watery wilderness into agricultural fields. Wetlands are significantly threatened places. Since 1700, 87% of global wetlands have been lost, a rate three times faster than natural forests.

There is growing interest in investment for peatlands, nature-based climate solutions and green jobs. This project helps prepare for new government and private investment, protect precious peat soils and water resources. 

To demonstrate some of the possibilities for combining rewetting with agricultural production, the CANAPE project has funded the creation of a trial wet farming site in the Broads, building on experience gained through the project.  This includes 5 compartments, which will grow a mixture of demonstration crops to show the potential of wetland farming. 

For a more detailed discussion of the aims of the pilot recorded as it was getting under way, please see our CANAPE Chats episode.

Image from a drone showing grazing fields intersected by a waterway, with an area golden reed beds on the far side of the waterway.

Footage of the Horsey Estate in the Broads National Park, showing the mosaic of drained grazing areas and near natural fen. 

Results so far February 2022

• Broads IDB have efficiently constructed the bunds, using a minimal topsoil strip to level the site and installed the water intake and outflow

• Ivel Aquatics have done an amazing job planting the 13,000 healthy plants, supplied by Verdant Solutions,. The reed and typha (reed mace) were planted in challenging conditions, in the midst of the fuel crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, and seem to be rooting nicely into the ground despite it all

• New Energy Farms have supplied are trialling a new way of planting reed, by encapsulated reed in wax bundles of ready to go propagules – we have almost a hundred of their CEEDSTM in the ground

• Horsey Estate and Hirst Farms Ltd have helped prepare the ground and with keeping grazing geese and deer away as best they can – although we are planning further protectionsBird's eye view of the site, showing a field in which 5 compartments have bene constructed, all muddy brown in the image. The field is bordered by water channels.

The site during construction and planting phase in the second half of 2021

• Monitoring by Exo-Environmental is showing low levels of nutrient in the site, and with water levels high than expected over the winter, we will monitor how this is affecting the young plant growth

• Broads Authority and Horsey Estate have hosted Defra’s Lowland Agricultural Peatland Task Force and it’s chair Robert Caudwell who are championing the challenges and
opportunities for farming, climate and nature in lowland peatland areas in England and representing these to government

• The British Reed Growers Association have visited the site

• Broads Authority presented information about this wet farming demonstration at the climate conference COP 26 at Glasgow

• As the plants grow more engagement is planned with farmers, thatcher’s, land managers and policy developers


A group of around 15 people stood on a grassy site, with grey clouds in a blue sky overhead

Visits to the Horsey Demonstration site