19/05/2009
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Britain's got wildlife-friendly farming talent

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Susan Boyle's beautiful singing has made her the odds-on favourite in the TV talent contest, but it's the sound of Britain's rural songbirds that has helped four talented farmers reach the shortlist of the RSPB's Nature of Farming Award.

Yellowhammer
Yellowhammer, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire (Photo: Kev Joynes)

Darren Moorcroft, head of Conservation Management Advice at the RSPB, said: "Vital work is taking place on farms across the UK to help conserve our nation's wildlife and we feel it's important to celebrate those efforts. Many species of animals, plants and insects are benefiting as a result of farmers employing more sensitive measures on their land and as the many entries for this award have shown us, they are very proud of the results."

Farmers from across the UK entered the award — now in its second year — hoping to impress the judges with their conservation projects and wildlife-friendly farming techniques. Following much deliberation, four regional finalists have made it to the shortlist after being judged on their efforts to protect and restore habitats for birds and other wildlife.

The next stage of the contest will see the RSPB opening up the voting to the Great British public. Voters can log onto the webpoll at www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote to read a profile of each finalist before making their choice and the Society will also take the public vote out on the road by attending the major country shows and events throughout the UK in the coming months. The vote runs until 28th August.

"Now it's over to the British public to make their choice and help us crown Britain's most wildlife-friendly farmer," Darren added. "You can vote online or pick up a voting slip at rural shows across the country including the Bath and West Agricultural Show, the East of England Show and the Royal Welsh, Highland and Balmoral shows. We hope that anyone who loves the British countryside and its amazing wildlife will get behind this award and make their voice heard — so get voting!"

The award is organised by the RSPB in partnership with Plantlife International, Countryfile Magazine and Butterfly Conservation. "Arable plants are the most threatened group of wild plant species in Britain and we have lost more than 90% of our flower-rich grasslands in the last 60 years," said Victoria Chester, Chief Executive of Plantlife. "Plantlife believes that the Nature of Farming Award is a fantastic way to draw attention to the needs of farmland flora and the wildlife that depends on it as well as celebrating the outstanding achievements of so many of the UK's farmers, particularly our 2009 finalists. Working with RSPB helps all of us spread the vital message of the importance of farming for wildlife, and vice versa."

Martin Warren, Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation, commented: "Farmland is a vital habitat for butterflies and other wildlife. Butterflies are declining fast. We need the help of farmers to ensure their future survival. The finalists are all wonderful examples of how to combine native conservation with farming."

The inaugural award last year was won by Peter Davies whose 850-acre organic farm on the Welsh coast has become a haven for the rare Chough, migrating Swallows, Brown Hares, Barn Owls and many rare wildflowers.

Pink-footed Goose
Pink-footed Goose, Scurdie Ness, Angus & Dundee (Photo: Andy Thompson Photography)

The finalists hoping to do their region proud in 2009 are:

Midlands

George Eaton — Rectory Farm, Buckinghamshire

On his 150-acre mixed farm George has put in place a series of conservation measures including restoring old water meadows to encourage Yellow Rattle and White Saxifrage flowers. He has also protected riverbanks on his land from livestock to help Water Voles and Otters and has created a species-rich hay meadow. Local children have benefited from his hard work with several local schools paying his farm a visit to see the wildlife.

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Scotland

John Moir — Cairness Home Farm, Aberdeenshire

On his 670-hectare commercial farm John has introduced many wildlife-friendly agricultural measures including cutting grass late in the season, sowing unharvested crops and leaving buffer strips. By integrating these measures into the day-to-day running of his farm he has encouraged nesting Corn Buntings, Pink-footed Geese and several other species whilst also remaining profitable and competitive in the marketplace.

Northern Ireland

Michael Calvert — Barnwell Farms, County Down

Michael joined the RSPB's Yellowhammer Recovery Project in 2006 and since then has brought all kinds of plants and wildlife to his 80-hectare farm — from Barn Owls, Bullfinches and Snipe to Smooth Newt, Irish Stoats, Common Spotted Orchids and Marsh Ragwort. He has achieved his remarkable results with a variety of measures including planting new hedgerows, limiting insecticide and herbicide use and creating new woodland using native tree species.

Northern England

Stephen Gibson — Birkdale, Yorkshire

Stephen Gibson's 120-hectare mixed arable and sheep farm has been so successful as a home to rare flowers, a wide variety of bird species and insect pondlife that he is regularly visited by university researchers and ecologists. Arable flowers on his land include Venus's-looking-glass, Weasel's Snout and Red Hempnettle while more than 100 bird species have been recorded including Turtle Doves, Grey Partridge and Spotted Flycatchers.

To view the finalists' profiles and cast your vote visit www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote.

Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher, Blackpool Mill, Pembrokeshire (Photo: Richard Crossen)

Written by: RSPB