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Hampshire farmer Highly Commended in Nature of Farming Award

10 July 2012

Samantha Stokes
Media Officer
E-mail: sam.stokes@rspb.org.uk

A Hampshire farmer has been praised for his efforts to help wildlife in this year’s RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award.

George Atkinson, of Lower Farm, East Meon, received the Highly Commended award in recognition for the exceptional conservation work he has done on his farm for birds and other wildlife.

Mr. Atkinson said: “Lower Farm is home to a wide range of well established natural habitats, which attracts and supports a wide diversity of species.

“Skylarks, lapwings, grey partridge and corn bunting are key farmland species we are trying to help through our management of arable land and hedgerows. In our wet meadows, water voles, snipe and barn owls are the main conservation priorities, while the chalk hill grassland boasts over 140 species of plants, including rare orchids.

“We have also been working with the local sustainability centre to educate school children about food production, the history of the countryside and how it links in with the conservation of the environment.”

The 490ha mixed farm consists of predominantly chalk hill down land and permanent pasture, which is managed through grazing with rare-breed sheep and cattle. These areas are a haven for butterflies, including silver spotted skipper, dark green fritillary, dingy skipper and chalkhill blues.

The farm also manages over 130ha of arable farmland, which through the inclusion of beetle banks (strips of tussocky grass within the crop), hedgerows and skylark plots, supports lapwings, yellowhammers, skylarks, grey partridge and red kites, as well as showing an impressive display of poppies, yellow pansy, wall speedwell and field forget-me-not.

Mr Atkinson also works with wildlife groups in the local area to carry out surveys on the birds and wildlife found across the farm.

Meanwhile, his conservation work is supported by agri-environment schemes, which provide funding to farmers to protect wildlife on their farms.

Fay Pattinson, agricultural projects officer for the RSPB South East said: “Mr. Atkinson is doing valuable work on his farm for species that are in real trouble, and is passionate about maintaining the richness and traditional landscape character of his holding for future generations.

“He and many other land managers depend on agri-environment schemes in order to balance food production with wildlife protection, so the recently proposed reductions in the EU budget for wildlife-friendly farming are worrying.

“If the UK Government is going to meet its target to halt the decline in biodiversity by 2020, it needs to fight to protect the schemes, because it’s going to need the help of farmers like Mr. Atkinson.”

News on the Nature of Farming Award can be found on the website www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote

The competition is run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph.

The EU LIFE+ Programme funds RSPB work which supports wildlife-friendly farming that furthers sustainable development in the European Union.