Close up of wheat

Simon Stott

Simon Stott

Simon Stott farms at Laund Farm near Chipping, upland pasture and meadows in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Stott family has been farming here for 40 years and three generations.

As well as tending 1,000 hill sheep and 60 suckler cows, the Stotts milk 300 Friesland sheep and run Sheep Milk UK, a farmers' co-operative that was set up in 2003. The business is thriving and Simon’s success in integrating economically viable farming with wildlife conservation is clear - in 2006 he was named the Farmers Guardian Best Young Farmer Producer and in 2005, the RSPB’s National Lapwing Champion.

Areas of the farm are managed under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and at present, Simon is working closely with the RSPB’s Bowland Wader Project to enter the farm into the Higher Level Stewardship scheme to continue to provide important farm habitats for wildlife.

Laund Farm is especially important for breeding waders. Lapwings, curlews, redshanks and snipe have all benefited from creation of scrapes, re-profiling of ditch edges and annual rush management to maintain an open tussocky sward that also provides better quality grazing for Simon’s livestock. The rewards have been great, the lapwing population alone has grown from just five to 16 pairs in two years.

Not content with seeing these birds flourish on his own farm, Simon undertakes contract work to create scrapes and other wet features on farms elsewhere, has hosted open days, farm walks and demonstration days to show others his work and offer his advice on how to encourage farm wildlife.

The NSA North Sheep event held on the farm in June attracted more than 9,000 people to the farm, many of whom were able to see lapwing chicks from a tractor and trailer ride through his spring barley field – sown not just to provide wholecrop livestock feed but also bare ground nesting sites for lapwings in spring. Simon plans to add educational access to his new Higher Level Stewardship scheme and invite new audiences such as local schools to see farming and conservation working together.

Simon says: ‘The RSPB has been very supportive all the way through our stewardship work. If I need any advice or help, I just pick up the phone and ask. I’m impressed with the RSPB’s commitment. I don’t know many other organisations which will come out to your farm on a call-out on a Sunday!’ 

Farming for lapwings

In Simon's case, grant availability was there in the form of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS).

He receives a regular annual income for the scheme in return for managing the land in a sensitive manner for breeding wading birds. The 10-year agreement that the RSPB negotiated is also boosted by supplements for creating damper patches and clearing large areas of rush from the land.

A simple outline of the management required by this scheme is shown below. All of the management shown here is of benefit to wading birds on his land and much of this management fitted in with what Simon was doing anyway on these fields.

Management practices adopted

  • No chemical fertilisers
  • Light application of well-rotted bedding muck every two years
  • Intensive rush management to clear large areas of soft rush (cutting, weed-wiping and grazing)
  • No major machinery operations between mid March and August (to avoid disturbance to ground-nesting birds)
  • Creation of shallow, open, wet features in fields for wading birds (‘scrape’ creation and ditch reprofiling)
  • Using livestock to create and maintain a short-grazed sward with a few tussocks (reducing the stock level slightly for a short period in spring to reduce the chance of nest trampling)            

In particular, the requirement to manage his dense rushy areas was just the kind of management Simon was keen to do to help improve the grazing value of the land.

As part of the working relationship between our project officers and farmer clients, an aftercare service is available to offer on-site advice and guidance. This method of working ensures that farmers are always supported if they choose to enter land into conservation management agreements for birds – it also ensures that wherever possible, the best conditions are provided for birds on the farm.

A shallow, wet scrape - one of many wet areas Simon has created across his fields to provide feeding areas for wading birds

The results

Two years on from entering his CSS agreement, Simon's land has changed dramatically.

Poor grazing land dominated by large blocks of dense rush (which many wading birds don’t like) are now have an open grassland sward structure, providing short feeding areas for birds and scattered tussocks which provide cover for chicks.

Steep-sided and silted ditches have been cleared out and have had their edges reprofiled to make them bird-friendly. With the drainage improvements, these drains have been blocked with small dams to provide permanent wet patches in field corners.

Some of the naturally damp patches have been gently dug out to provide very shallow surface pools. These ‘scrapes’ provide an excellent source of insect food for chicks in the summer.

Grazing is now encouraged at a suitable density to ensure that the short tussocky grass sward is maintained for the birds and the rush does not return. To achieve this, Simon uses the best tools he has: his suckler cows. Beef cattle are better at tackling rush growth than sheep, and generally provide a more attractive, uneven sward.

As a result of his own work, Simon has watched his breeding lapwing population increase from five to 16 pairs in two years. This spring, a pair of redshanks has also taken up residence.

Simon has now seen what can be achieved under the Defra grant schemes with RSPB support. His land has been improved agriculturally with minimum sacrifice, and birds are flourishing under these new conditions. He has enjoyed getting his rough land back to grassland and watching the lapwings and other birds colonise.

For two years, Simon has been a committed champion of his local lapwings. In July 2005, his hard work was rewarded when he received the RSPB’s Lapwing Champion award in recognition of his dedication. He has also hosted open days on his farm for other farmers and landowners, to show others his work and offer his advice on how to encourage wading birds.

Simon Stott’s work at Laund Farm is a great example of how conservation and mainstream agriculture can work hand-in-hand. The regular grant payments under CSS are a valued addition to the farm income and the scheme targets his least productive areas to improve them for birds and livestock grazing.

Simon says: ‘The RSPB has been very supportive all the way through our stewardship work. If I need any advice or help, I just pick up the phone and ask. I’m impressed with the RSPB’s commitment; I don’t know many other organisations that will come out to your farm on a call-out on a Sunday!’

For further information about the Bowland Wader Project, please contact Tom Bridge on 01200 426433 or email tom.bridge@rspb.org.uk

Lapwing