Warwickshire Award winner for farming and conservation
Southam farmer, Hugh Darbishire, has won the prestigious Forsyth Lapwing Challenge Cup, awarded to the leading Warwickshire farm in recognition for excellence in environmental farming and conservation.
Organised by The Warwickshire Rural Hub and sponsored by Syngenta, the award is given to the farm judged to be attaining the optimal balance of profitable farming alongside environmental conservation and ecological enhancement.
With more farms entering than ever before this year, the two other short-listed finalists were William and Richard Morton of Manor Farm, Napton-on-the-Hill and Richard White from Swan Farm, Grendon near Atherstone.
The Warwickshire Forsyth Lapwing Challenge Cup 2016 winners, Hugh Darbishire (centre); Richard Morton (second left) and Richard White (fourth left), with Anthony Forsyth and Belinda Bailey.
Hugh Darbishire has successfully incorporated a range wildflower margins rich in pollen and nectar, buffer strips, wild bird cover and winter food habitats, alongside his arable cropping and grassland for the sheep enterprise on his 180 hectare (450 acre) Hill Farm at Priors Hardwick.
Over 10% of the farm is dedicated to HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) management of environmental areas.
“We are looking to protect the existing environmental features that we have, including ridge and furrow pasture dating back to medieval times and old Victorian hay meadows. But there are always ways to enhance areas or change the way that we manage things that can further enhance the ecological value, without impinging on the way that we can farm profitably,” he said.
Ponds have been restored, hedgerows planted and pockets of woodland created - all aspects that provide a diverse habitat for wildlife, but have also enhanced the farming practices.
Hugh is extremely clear that the sustainability of the farm is dependent on economic viability of the business, alongside the long-term management of soils and the environment.
“We aim to farm the areas that suit modern practices in a commercial way, and the areas that don’t suit it are managed more traditionally and extensively farmed. It all seems far more harmonious.” Hugh (above) recently opened his farm as part of Open Farm Sunday, to demonstrate his environmental work to the wider public.
Belinda Bailey, Syngenta Environmental Initiatives Manager and judge of the Forsyth Lapwing Challenge Cup, highlighted that all the entrants to this year’s competition had demonstrated that commercial farmland can be proactively managed to enhance the environment, alongside productive sustainable intensive agriculture.
“There are many ways that ecological features, such as pollen and nectar margins or wild bird food mixes, can add enormously to the diversity of wildlife on the farm, as well as protecting soils and water resources with a truly multi-functional landscape,” she said.
“In the current agri-environment system they can also make a positive contribution to overall farm profitability and long-term sustainability,” added Belinda.
She also praised the Morton brothers for their initiatives to attract wild birds to their farm, with rotational wildflower and bird seed mixes, overwintered stubbles and areas of unharvested cereals to provide food, along with scrapes by the river Leam and bar ground patches for nesting farmland birds.
Richard White was also highlighted for working with the local community and environmental specialists in creating a whole farm plan to encourage diverse wildlife on the farm. Alongside the wildflower planting, John has dedicated areas of scrub managed for butterflies and two fields next to the local school have been used to educate children about the role of conservation and the balance with commercial farming.
The Forstyth Lapwing Challenge Cup, originated in 1983, has been resurrected by the Warwickshire Rural Hub after a gap of several years. The Hub’s co-ordinator, Carrie Robbins, highlighted that this year it received more entries than ever before.
“That reflects the outstanding work that our region’s farmers are doing for environmental conservation.
“We have seen a real interest from farmers and desire for training to get the best possible results from environmental areas managed under various initiatives, along with ever greater emphasis on preserving and enhancing soil and water resources. The environmental measures can fulfil both objectives,” she added.
The Warwickshire Rural Hub provides a wide range of support services and training primarily for the region’s farmers, including a dedicated Environmental Farming Group and a closely allied Soils Group.
The Forstyth Lapwing Challenge Cup was set up in 1985 by the Forsyth family, farming in Warwickshire, to encourage and promote conservation initiatives on commercial farms in the county.
Presenting this year’s awards at a Syngenta Solatenol Platform Site Open Evening for farmers earlier (4 July 2016) this month, Anthony Forsyth recalled how the farming business’s success in a national Silver Lapwing Award - as runners up in 1981 and overall winners in 1983 - had spurred them on to focus on conservation maters alongside the progressive farming.
“All farms are custodians of the countryside and most are making great efforts to encourage wildlife and conservation efforts," he announced .
"The Forstyth Lapwing Challenge Cup is a way of recognising and rewarding their individual great work, and the overall benefit to the county,” Anthony Forsyth added.
All of the winners received Syngenta Operation Pollinator seed mixes, for annual wildflower pollen and nectar habitats and Bees ‘N Seeds mix to encourage pollinating insects and overwinter wild birds.