Help us find Britain’s most wildlife friendly farmer

We need your help to find Britain's most wildlife friendly farmer. Clare Hargreaves meets the four finalists who are after your vote in this year's Nature of Farming Awards

Gloucestershire floods
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Our vision of the countryside is a romantic notion – birds singing, hares charging across the fields and insects buzzing along the hedgerows. But the wonderful thing is that in many parts of the countryside, this is more than just a whimsical dream, it’s a reality. It’s easy to forget sometimes that this idyll only really exists because our land has been worked for centuries, cultivated and grazed. It’s also important to remember that the landscape we adore is a working environment, as farmers strive to make a living off the land. Commercial concerns and wildlife needs can work together, and with this in mind Countryfile Magazine teamed up with the RSPB, Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation to run the Nature of Farming Award, now in its second year.
We received more than 300 entries from farmers all across the country, who were then submitted to a rigorous shortlisting process. Eventually a team of judges including Plantlife chief executive Victoria Chester; RSPB conservation director Dr Mark Avery; chief executive of Butterfly Conservation Dr Martin Warren; and Countryfile Magazine editor Cavan Scott whittled the nominations down to the four finalists you’ll find over the page.
And now it’s over to you. We want you to read the farmers’ stories over the next four pages and vote for the farm that you think best shows a real commitment to conservation. The winning farmer will receive a £1,000 cheque and by voting you’ll be entered into a prize draw to win a fantastic wildlife goody bag, including a subscription to Countryfile Magazine.

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Finalist Number 1
Michael Calvert, Barnwell Farms

Greyabbey, Co Down

Stroll across Barnwell Farms in spring and you’ll hear the little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese song of yellowhammers, which nest in the thick blossom-decked hawthorn hedges that ring fields of spring barley and grass pastures. Such sounds, and the sight of the bright yellow males bobbing above the hedgerows, have become increasingly rare on Britain’s farms because pesticides and herbicides have destroyed many of the insects and seeds the birds feed on. But at Barnwell, where margins of rough grass are left around the fields, they’ve become commonplace again.
Michael Calvert joined the RSPB’s Yellowhammer Recovery Project three years ago, but his concern for wildlife goes back much further. He’s never farmed intensively, but six years he heard about a government conservation scheme. “I was offered grants and advice to help me do things that I wanted to do anyway, so it was a no-brainer,” says Michael. “I’ve certainly noticed a lot of changes since then. There were very few yellowhammers then, but now you’re unlucky if you don’t see one.”
Spring barley stubble is left in autumn for birds over the winter months. Apart from yellowhammers, he’s spotted skylarks, tree sparrows, linnets and reed buntings and recently, red kites. Irish hares and stoats have returned too.

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“I told a man who works for the Irish equivalent of the RSPB that we’d had red kites,” says Michael. “He said ‘Are you serious?’ He said the last time he’d seen them was in Wicklow several years ago.
“There is plenty of other wildlife too, it’s exciting. Yesterday I spotted two Irish hares running across the spring fields. Hares live above ground so they need cover, which is why we leave areas of grass untouched. A few years ago when I was turning the hay a family of red-legged partridge jumped out.”
Michael’s also been managing his bogland areas to make them more wildlife-friendly. Butterflies, including the common blue, are flourishing. Woodlands have also been developed; he has planted a variety of hardwoods like birch, ash, oak and rowan, which provide habitats for mammals big and small.
Michael is keen to share his lifelong passion for wildlife with others, including visitors who stay in his holiday cottages which he’s crafted out of old pig units. He’s put information boards and books in the games room that the cottages share, but Michael’s biggest hope is that visitors will experience wildlife on the farm for themselves.
Another person Michael has to convince about the importance of wildlife is his neighbouring farmer who rents some fields for his suckler herd. “It’s important he understands my aims and attitude to protecting natural habitats on the farm,” he says. “That was certainly a condition when he rented the land.”

NEXT > George Eaton
Rectory farm, near the village of Water Stratford west of Buckingham, is managed by George and Anne Eaton. It’s a 150-acre mixed farm, with a disused railway running through it, and is bordered to the north by the Great Ouse.

 

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