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Last modified: 19 July 2013
Image: David Kjaer
From today members of the public are being asked to choose who they think is the UK's most wildlife-friendly farmer.
After months of deliberation, the judges for this year's RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award have selected eight farmers from across the UK to go through to the final of this prestigious award. Now it's up to the public to decide who they think should come out on top.
Now in its sixth year, the Nature of Farming Award celebrates farmers who do wonderful things for nature and find the individual who has done the most on their land to help our special but threatened countryside wildlife. It is run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph.
The award was set up to help share wildlife-friendly farming practice and encourage public awareness of the important role we need farmers to play in conservation. It celebrates farmers who work hardest to help threatened countryside wildlife, such as skylarks, brown hares, bees, butterflies and plants.
The overall winner will be selected using a combination of judges' scores and public vote
This year, for the first time, the judges have selected eight finalists rather than four – each one representing a different region in England (north, east, midlands, south-east and south-west) and one for each of the countries. The overall winner will be selected using a combination of judges' scores and public vote.
Martin Harper, the RSPB's director of conservation and one of this year's judges, said: 'The RSPB is working on the ground with farmers and their local communities in 27 of the best farming areas for wildlife across the whole of the UK, many of whom have entered the Nature of Farming Awards this year.
'They are the real wildlife heroes, and they are telling us that without funding from governments they won't be able to continue to put the colour back into the Great British countryside. It is imperative that governments assist these farmers by ensuring that money paid to them is directed to those that do the most for society.'
Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation, said: 'The finalists this year show a tremendous passion for wildlife and are superb demonstrations of how farming and wildlife can go together. I was delighted to see some great ways of saving butterflies and moths as well as a range of threatened wildlife.'
Countryfile editor and one of the judges, Fergus Collins, added: "It's hugely heartening to see farmers who are true custodians of the land and its wildlife, proving that it's possible to support the natural environment while managing a profitable business."
Last year's winner, Henry Edmunds, narrowly saw off the three other fantastic finalists with his organic farm in Wiltshire, which hosts an array of rare birds, bumblebees, moths and butterflies. He said: 'I have witnessed our landscape deteriorate over the last 30 years - birds have disappeared, butterflies have been lost, and ancient grasslands ploughed up.
'I wanted my farming policies to reverse those trends. To do without wildlife is not an option. We all have a responsibility to maintain it and help it flourish, not sacrifice it for greater commercial yields.
'We need to step back, look sensibly at the way we farm and try to make it more sustainable and better for the environment in the long run.'
The award attracts tens of thousands of votes from the public, with almost 18,000 last year and over 22,000 the year before.
From today, people are invited to vote online, by phone, post, or at various country shows. Everyone who votes will be automatically entered into a free prize draw for a luxury break for two people with Millennium Hotels. Votes can be cast until 31 August 2013 and the winner will be announced in September.
The Nature of Farming Award is funded by the EU LIFE+ programme, safeguarding the future of our farmland birds under the EU Birds Directive.
We're celebrating farmers who do wonderful things for nature. It's time to cast your vote!
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