Cattle grazing the meadows at Vane Farm RSPB reserve, Kinross, Scotland


Find out more about what Scottish farmers have been doing and the wildlife they have been rewarded with on their farms.

Patrick Bowden-Smith

Patrick Bowden-Smith demonstrates a great ability to farm commercially, with the environment at the heart of his business decisions.

Patrick's work on his mixed farm in East Fife has clearly taken him a couple of steps beyond the measures required in agri-environment. He has used his own ideas and experience as a hydrologist to improve the environment and his farming systems.

Because of this background, some of the most impressive achievements involve managing water and extensive work on watercourses and wetlands have enabled sea trout to return to the Dunino Burn to spawn - a significant success with sea trout spawning here three years ago for the first time in at least 60 years.

This has been achieved by constructing fish ladders and removing impediments to upstream movement. Hydrological control also allows him to create artificial spate conditions, in late summer when water levels are low, preventing fish being trapped in ponds where they are vulnerable.

Bird studies have been a feature on the farm for many years and local bird ringers use the farm for a Constant Effort Site (one of the oldest in Scotland) and cannon-netting of wintering waders and wildfowl. Three pairs of barn owls all use 'natural' sites although various boxes are also in place to encourage their further expansion.

Up to a dozen pairs of grey partridges currently call the farm 'home' with extensive field margins and bird-friendly (wide-mesh) fencing always used when replacing fences. There is a great range of bird-friendly management appropriate to the farm and the surrounding area such as well-sited wild bird cover, grass margins, hedgerow/farm woodland management and planting.

Patrick uses his own seed mixes for wild bird cover areas and has been working with a seed company to promote this mix.

Angela and Alex McColl

Delighted to have won the Scottish Operation Lapwing Competition, Angela and Alex McColl, of Loig Farm in Perthshire, were ecstatic to then go on to win the overall UK prize.

With presentation at both the Royal Highland Show in June and then the Royal Show in July, the McColls have been fantastic advocates for their lapwing-friendly farming. 

Restoring a wetland and wet grassland within a previously drained area of floodplain has seen a great response from both lapwings and redshanks and attracts wintering wildfowl too. 

The wetland lies within their mixed organic enterprise providing nesting and feeding opportunities on grassland and spring cropped ground, all within easy reach of wet features for rearing chicks. The level of media interest has been great, with many articles in the local, regional and national press.

The McColls beat off competition from 239 other farmers to win the competition. Angela McColl said, ‘It’s been all about letting the farm do what it does best. In trying to drain the wetland, my father-in-law was fighting against nature. Now we are letting the land revert to its natural condition, which has made it so much more attractive to wildlife. Lapwings and redshanks were quick to return and were rapidly followed by many other species.’

The McColls opted to go organic four years ago and believe the switch has enabled wildlife to flourish. They have a number of agri-environment schemes running and other measures now helping wildlife include spring sown crops with stubbles left over winter, and controls on cattle grazing.

Angela McColl said, ‘Our farm is still profitable but at the same time is giving us pleasure. The benefits for wildlife mean other people are enjoying the land too.’

John Moir

John is an excellent example of a farmer successfully integrating environmental management into his commercial farm business in Aberdeenshire.

His mixed farming enterprise, with diverse cropping and late cutting of grass provides nesting opportunities for corn buntings. Numbers of this rare species have increased on the farm from five singing males in 2006 to 14 in 2008. Breeding waders nest on the spring tilled land and make use of sympathetically managed wet grassland areas.

Through the Rural Stewardship Scheme and more recently, Rural Development Contracts, John has introduced unharvested crops to provide seed food for birds such as corn buntings, tree sparrows and yellowhammers. Grass margins and beetle banks have been created to boost insect populations around the arable land, and species-rich grasslands to enhance habitats for plants, butterflies and other insects. During the summer, fields are brought alive by arable plants such as corn marigold. Butterflies recorded include green hairstreaks, dark green fritillaries and graylings.

The farm plays a significant role in the Strathbeg Goose Management Scheme, enabling thousands of pink-footed geese to graze undisturbed on several grass fields each year. Extensive grassland management attracts thousands of curlews, lapwings and golden plovers during the autumn and winter.

The Moirs are involved in the Savoch Burn Catchment Initiative, dedicated to reducing diffuse pollution of this watercourse that feeds into the Loch of Strathbeg. Having begun organic conversion in 2006, their land management reduces nutrient run-off into the burn. By planting riverside woodlands, water margin vegetation has been allowed to develop and valuable buffer strips have been created.

Alastair Robb

The RSPB's Operation Lapwing competition, sponsored by Jordans Cereals, is for farmers who carry out lapwing-friendly farming practices. In 2005, Alastair Robb of Townhead farm near Stirling, was the Scottish winner of the award.

Alastair, a young upland farmer, needed to both improve the quality of his grassland and fatten up lambs on his farm ready for market. He resolved this by combining traditional farming practices with a modern solution. Traditionally, most upland farms would have combined livestock with arable crops. Alastair returned to this approach by finishing his lambs on a leafy fodder crop, Typhon, a Chinese cabbage-turnip hybrid.

The Typhon is cultivated in June, after most lapwing nests have hatched, by disc harrowing or rotovation. This produces an ideal soil surface structure for nesting lapwing the following year. Sheep are put onto the fields to graze periodically throughout autumn and winter. This leaves the ground relatively bare by the end of February – perfect for nesting lapwings.

Following two years in Typhon, the field is then reseeded to grass in June or July of the third year, allowing a third summer for lapwings to breed. Fields under Typhon move around the farm according to the quality of the grass sward.

Since the operation started in 2000, numbers of nesting lapwings have increased from two to 67 pairs in 2006. Alastair's farm also has four to five pairs of redshanks, a dozen drumming snipe and around 10 pairs of curlews.

Rob Wainwright

Rob Wainwright successfully manages his Hebridean upland farm in a way which provides ideal habitat for two priority bird species with very different requirements – the lapwing and the corncrake.

Rob and Romayne Wainwright have farmed 12 square kilometres at Cliad on the Isle of Coll since 2000. Their management has seen cattle numbers increase and sheep numbers reduced. Blue-grey cattle and Hebridean sheep are great extensive grazers, creating some excellent habitat for nesting lapwings.

The re-introduction of spring cropping, in the form of oats and/or barley, plus turnips for fodder, have also been a real bonus for lapwings, with cropped ground adjacent to wetland being very popular with nesting lapwings. The wet grassland areas on the farm provide ideal insect-rich habitat for lapwing chicks.

Rob has worked with RSPB Scotland to help provide habitats for corncrakes - a species with rather different and potentially conflicting requirements to lapwings. The provision of wild bird cover type crops has successfully got around this, as the lapwings use the bare ground in the spring, small songbirds such as twites feed on seeds through the winter, and corncrakes then use the crop as early cover when they return from Africa in the spring.

Rob has been controlling hedgehogs and ferrets on his land, which is quite likely to be contributing to the greatly improved nesting success, which saw lapwing productivity go from zero in 2005 to 0.91 chicks per pair in 2006. Overall, numbers of lapwings are now up to about 25 pairs with nesting birds starting to spread out from the in-bye to the hill ground.

In recognition of their lapwing-friendly management, the Wainwrights were crowned Scottish winners of the RSPB’s Operation Lapwing competition in 2007.