Last modified: 19 July 2013
Image: RSPB - Bruce Fowkes
A South Downs farmer has been named as the South East’s finalist in this year’s RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award.
George Atkinson has won the regional round of the competition, for his achievements in looking after wildlife and the environment while running a productive mixed farm.
He will now go forward to the final round of the competition, and face a public vote to find the UK’s most wildlife-friendly farmer.
Bruce Fowkes, Conservation Advisor for RSPB South East, said: “Lower Farm is an impressive example of how a mixed farm can produce quality food and at the same time, have conservation at its core. A diversity of farming systems allow a selection of well considered conservation projects to provide for key species across the farm.
“George is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the work that he is undertaking, and demonstrates this to a wide range of audiences through farm walks and talks. He is an active, well respected member of the local farming community and is a great example of how conservation and food production can sit side by side.”
George is a farmer and a conservationist, and has good knowledge of a wide range of wildlife, which he has used to implement the right measures in the right place. Arable management has been used to provide the ‘Big 3’ – safe nesting areas, summer food and winter food – for key species including skylark and lapwing. Chalk grassland and woodlands on the farm provide suitable habitat for butterflies, and management along the River Meon helps water voles and native brown trout.
Barn owl boxes have been erected at Lower Farm, in Hampshire, as part of a project run by the South Downs National Park Authority. The provision of boxes, along with hunting habitat provided through areas of rough grass, has resulted in 2 breeding pairs in recent years. Kestrels are also known to breed on the farm.
Butterflies are an important feature at Lower Farm, and one of George’s key interests. 30 different species have been recorded across the farm, including silver spotted skipper, dark green fritillary and dingy skipper. In 2012, Lower Farm was selected as a re-introduction site for Duke of Burgundy butterfly.
Extensive grassland provides an ideal habitat for brown hare, which are abundant across the farm; while a network of hedgerows are maintained to provide continuous wildlife corridors for the local bat population.
The farm falls within the South Downs National Park, and through his conservation work George has worked with a variety of organisations including the South Downs National Park Authority, Natural England, Butterfly Conservation, Catchment Sensitive Farming (for which he sits on the committee), FWAG and the RSPB. All of these organisations have inputted advice, which George has used along with his own knowledge to deliver effective conservation work across the farm.
George said: “'I’m delighted that our farm has been recognised in the Nature of Farming Award this year. Our ambition is to showcase our work on the farm to more members of the public by increasing the number of farm and wildlife tours we run, particularly to school groups.”
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, including the South Downs.
“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.”
A total of eight farmers have reached the final round of the competition and expert judges from the RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and Countryfile had the difficult job of assessing all of the amazing regional winners from around the UK and ranking them from 1-8.
The overall winner will be selected using a combination of judges’ scores and public vote. Currently George is in third place, but the next stage is where it could all change.
From today [19 July] people are invited to vote for their favourite wildlife farming hero. The results from the public vote will then be combined with the judges’ scores to find the UK’s most wildlife-friendly farmer.
To support George and the south east, you can vote for him online at www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote. Alternatively call 01767 693680 to request a postal voting form.
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 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.
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