I attended the 39th Silver Lapwing awards yesterday, organised by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) and kindly sponsored by Waitrose. Heather Jenkins, Waitrose Director of Buying, attends the awards each year and told the audience how much importance the company places on these awards.
Annie Brown left (2015 winner) hands over the prestigious Silver Lapwing award to Richard and Helen Roderick
The event was held at Annie Brown’s stunning farm, high up on the Sussex Downs, with distant views overlooking Shoreham-by-sea, while passing container ships far out on the ocean completed the backdrop.
Annie was deservedly the winner of this prestigious award in 2015, as she and her team have over-seen a remarkable transformation of this part of the South Downs. Ironically, the whole farm was put into grass under the “Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme” as conservationists at the time thought that this was the right thing to do with the Downs (severely criticised by the GWCT at the time I hasten to add!).
In 2007, Annie took over the running of the farm following her father’s death and she realised that the grassland was not delivering any sensible grazing nor any environmental benefits either. Indeed, the wildlife had exited the farm big time, as species such as corn bunting and brown hare disliked the mono-culture of grass.
As Annie says “The excitement as the plough transformed some tired grassland on the Downs was palpable, and the fact that the corn bunting returned to the farm so quickly shows just how resilient nature can be”.
After a delicious lunch, everyone thoroughly enjoyed looking around Annie's beautiful farm
After a delicious lunch of local lamb and an assortment of fresh Waitrose produce, we all jumped on trailers to take a look around the farm. I have known this farm for some time, but WOW – it is a long time since I have heard this number of corn bunting singing! Every time the tractors pulled over and engines were turned off, there was a constant background of “rattling keys”, the song of one of the UK’s fastest declining farmland bird species.
Skylarks, meadow pipit and even a couple of calling quail added to the wonderful cacophony of sound. Meanwhile, many rare arable plants such as Night-flowering catchfly and Prickly poppy have come back in profusion, having patiently waited under grassland for this opportunity – colourfully reminding us all that the Downs were indeed one of the first parts of this country to be cultivated by our distant ancestors!
So what exactly has Annie and her team done to bring a silent grassland farm back from the dead? Well, she has taken good advice from a range of people and is also very lucky to have a top Natural England advisor in the form of Sue Simpson to oversee her Stewardship agreement. She has also created a hard working farm team around her, who are as dedicated and enthusiastic as she is. How often do I find myself saying this after visiting top award winning farms!
She has introduced Beetle banks, wildflower margins, wild bird seed mixes, fallow plots and also carries out supplementary feeding in the depths of winter, amongst many other things. The arable cropping is not in huge blocks of the same crop type, but broken up, and of course she has still retained plenty of downland grass, which intersperses the arable. What is more, the grass is grazed by both cattle and sheep.
I did say on the way around the farm that should I be re-incarnated as a corn bunting – then please may it be on this farm!!
So, who has won this year’s award? Well, a charming couple called Richard & Helen Roderick, from Newton farm, Scethrog, who manage a mixed farm of 650 acres in the Usk valley near Brecon in Wales. They were obviously absolutely delighted and I would like to pass on my congratulations to them, as it is no mean feat to win this prestigious, national award.
I would also like to congratulate Dominic Gardener from Lee farm, Angmering in West Sussex for coming second in the competition. I know Dominic well and can vouch for just how dedicated he is to farming with wildlife in mind.
I greatly look forward (if invited of course!) to looking around the Roderick’s farm next year in the knowledge that it has to be one hell of a place to have picked up the 2016 Silver Lapwing award!
Get the FREE weekly GWCT newsletter
Get all of Peter's and the GWCT's latest blog updates sent straight to your inbox each week.
Sign up to our FREE newsletter >