About us

Frank Foley, an engineer, and community artist Shelley Castle, have long held an interest in natural systems and ecological restoration.  Combining their particular interests in Biochar and Mycelium they gathered together a group of specialists including Dr Christian Taylor (Mycologist)  Dr. Rob Owen and West Country Rivers Trust to create the Flete Field Lab.

We would particularly like to thank Devon Environment Foundation which has funded the first stage of setting up the lab, and The Flete Estate who are providing a site for the work and access to land for field trials.

About the project

Microscopic mycelium and microbes underpin the health of our soil, and in turn the health of our waterways and life itself.

Flete Field Lab aims to run trials aimed at rewilding soil and restoring water quality on the Flete Estate using Mycofiltration and Biochar made from local materials to develop low-tech solutions that can be shared widely in the UK and beyond.

The Flete Estate runs either side of the Erme Estuary, with ancient woodlands and diverse wildlife that have secured its SSSI status. But there are issues with agricultural run-off, soil depletion and other human interventions that have a negative impact on both the soil and water quality and therefore the wider environment.

Under the Environment Agency, the Erme operational catchment is made up of 7 waterbodies, only one of which is classified (as of 2019) as “Good” for Ecological Status. All seven of them fail Chemical Status and the overwhelming reasons for these failures are due to agricultural land management and the water industry.

This project aims to restore soils and improve water quality by mitigating and attenuating agricultural runoff using a combination of Mycofiltration and Biochar on pasture fields.

DEF funding will enable the project leaders to build a network of stakeholders, create a core team of scientists and specialists, set up a small field lab on the estate, and deliver two field trials.

The key objectives of the project are:

  • Enhance soil ecology and improve water quality
  • Soil carbon sequestration
  • Attenuate flow and surface run-off, benefit drainage management
  • Sediment Management
  • Pollutant reduction
  • Habitat Creation (micro and macro)
  • Encourage sustainable and regenerative farming practices with evidence

“Mycofiltration is a new approach which uses fungi as a biological filter to remove persistent contaminants from both water and soil. Scientific studies have demonstrated how some species of fungi – like gourmet Oyster mushrooms – can digest pollutants like petrochemicals or bacteria, whilst others can remove and store heavy metals from the environment.” (Project Centre)

The Biochar will be made by turning wood from Flete Estate’s normal woodland management processes into biochar – discovering the best methods and designing a mobile biochar unit to help other Devon landowners/farmers apply local, circular, low impact practices to improve their soil and sequester carbon.

The research and intervention methods will be open source, meaning that we will freely share the ‘recipes’ that we discover are most effective for water and soil restoration projects taking place anywhere in Devon, and beyond!