Last modified: 23 July 2013
Image: The RSPB
Charlie Watson Smyth from Padstow is one of eight farmers shortlisted for this year’s prestigious Nature of Farming Award.
Now in its sixth year, the Nature of Farming Award will see finalists from around the UK face the public vote throughout the summer. The national award is run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph. The shortlisted farmers have strong environmental credentials and manage their farms with bird, plant, mammal and insect populations in mind while running commercially viable businesses.
Last year almost 18,000 people were inspired to cast their vote in the awards that eventually crowned Wiltshire’s Henry Edmunds the winner. 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.
Charlie and his family, who manage Tregirls, has won the South West Award and has been shortlisted for his achievements in looking after wildlife and the environment while running a productive mixed beef, sheep, pig and arable farm.
Kevin Rylands, speaking for the RSPB in the South West said, said: “Tregirls Farm is an impressive example of what it’s possible to achieve for wildlife within a commercial farming system, and shows that conservation needn’t clash with profitability.”
Charlie Watson Smyth said: “We are thrilled to have won the nomination for the Nature of Farming Award this year and to be recognised in this way. We have enjoyed working with the RSPB over the years, and doing the practical work to put in the place the ideas and experiments to help farmland birds.
“Yes, some of it has been quite challenging but we can see how many more birds, mammals and insects there are compared to a decade or so ago. If we can do this and still farm in the way we need to produce food, we would like to encourage more farmers to do the same.
“Our part of Cornwall is a great place to live and work and has always been popular with tourists. Increasingly, people are coming to experience nature not just the sandy beaches and surfing, they are coming in winter too, which to us in Cornwall is important, we all rely so heavily on tourism. We would like to see more responsible tourism that respects our wildlife, and it is nice to think we are doing our bit. We have seen through our shop a growing movement of local people who want to know where their food comes from, who is producing it and that it is being produced with respect for the countryside. Our stewardship agreement helps us to achieve what local people want – that has to be good for all of us.
One of Charlie’s motivations for working with nature is to be able to enjoy the return of the iconic Cornish chough.
Charlie added; "My late father-in-law saw the last Cornish chough on his farm in 1973 and I want my own grandchildren to grow up watching a chattering of choughs at Tregirls like generations before."
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 Cornish 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.”
Last year’s winner, Henry Edmunds from Wiltshire, 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.”
From today [19 July], people are invited to vote online, by phone, post, or at various country shows. Information on how to vote can be found at rspb.org.uk/farmvote
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.