By Tracé Williams, Great Bustard LIFE Manager
As I talk to this years Nature of Farming Award winner, Henry Edmunds, it becomes clear he is a true guardian of wildlife. Henry’s farm, the Cholderton Estate in Wiltshire, has been managed by his family since 1880, with Henry taking the reins in 1975. Wildlife flourishes on the estate due to the sustainability of the farming methods used, many of which stem from the 1880’s. As the estate is a mixed farm a number of leguminous crops are grown alongside keeping beef cattle, dairy cows, Hampshire Down sheep and the largest group of Cleveland Bay heavy horses in the country.
The whole farm is planned to benefit wildlife as well as being commercial. The estate is organic, so a rotation system is used involving cereal crops, grass and leguminous leys which attract insects such as butterflies and bees.
There is no spraying or formal weed control, crops are grown on animal manure generated by the farms own live stock and the crops that are grown are fed back to the livestock, making it hugely sustainable.
The field margins, thick hedgerows and the organic cereal crops allow wildlife to move around very easily and Henry takes great pleasure in seeing Marble whites, Meadow brown and Gatekeeper butterflies flitting freely about the farmland. Due to the abundance of insects the farm also provides a home for a huge number of nesting birds such as Bullfinches, and migrant warblers including Black caps, Whitethroats, and Lesser whitethroats- which Henry describes as ‘a joy to see and hear’.
Lapwings are also thriving by making use of the fallow ground, this year six pairs fledged between sixteen to eighteen chicks, the high success rate is due in no small part to the electric fences which Henry has erected around the area used by the birds to protect them from predation.
Chalk grassland is an important habitat in Wiltshire and with help from the RSPB Henry has identified fields that are suitable to be reverted back to their former glory. Through a combination of re-seeding and allowing the land to regenerate naturally the chalk downland is being restored. Corn buntings and Lapwings as well as moths and butterflies are all benefitting from the vibrantly coloured landscape. Some of these areas have been designated ‘Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation’ by Hampshire County Council.
Henry is proud of his farm and he says winning this competition is an honour and will hopefully make more people aware of the benefits of organic and wildlife friendly farming. He intends to continue to manage his estate with wildlife in mind and finishes our conversation by saying:
‘Agriculture needs to be more sustainable, to do without wildlife is not an option – we have a responsibility to maintain wildlife’
To hear more from Henry, listen to this month's podcast at www.rspb.org.uk/podcasts