This year’s winner of the Whitegrove Trophy award is Mr John Billington of Adbaston Farm.
He will receive the Silver Lapwing trophy, now in its 41st year, to celebrate his success at managing a commercial farm whilst integrating conservation efforts into his farming business.
Following their success last year in the Whitegrove Trophy, the Staffordshire farming wildlife and environment competition, Kinver farming family F C Osborn and Son have entered this year’s national FWAG competition for the Silver Lapwing trophy, sponsored for the 9th year by Waitrose.
Martin Osborn and his sons James and William won last year’s county trophy for their work to integrate commercial farming with providing valuable environments for wildlife. They farm around 650 acres of hilly land with variable soil types at Union Hall Farm near Kinver, with mainly cattle and arable crops. As well assessing work for biodiversity, judges for the Silver Lapwing trophy will consider other areas of the farm including the approach to conserving natural resources through good soil management, the protection of water quality and efficient use of water and energy. On the arable side of Union Hall Farm many options are employed including a substantial area of wild bird food whilst on the livestock side much good work is going on to produce quality beef from a species rich grassland. The judges were very impressed with the degree of integration between the features that had been created and those that were of a more permanent nature.
This is the 40th year of The Silver Lapwing. It is an award for farmers who have demonstrated a real commitment to species and habitat conservation whilst showing that they can integrate their environmental management within their overall farm business. Added to this, where relevant, is the need to understand and conserve the historic aspects of the farm.
The national FWAG Association represents local Farming & Wildlife Advisory Groups (FWAGs) across the UK in partnership with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF). These groups have helped British farmers for over four decades, providing trusted, independent, environmental advice. Chris Seabridge and Associates represent FWAG in the West Midlands.
Charlie Morgan is a national grassland specialist who worked for IGER/IBERS for 22 years where he helped develop new grass varieties and grazing methods to benefit UK agriculture. He is recognised as a leading expert in grassland management and will be available to offer specialist advice to farmers in the catchment groups facilitated by Chris Seabridge. Mr Morgans will be in the Blithfield catchment on Thursday 7th September 2017 from 12.00 to 3.00pm, at The Blythe Inn, Booth Lane, Nr Kingstone, ST18 0LT, and in the Lonco Brook catchment that evening from 7.00 to 9.30 pm at Offley Grove Farm, Adbaston, ST20 0QB.
Both events will include advice on soil and grassland management including re-seeding, effective weed control and improving soil condition as well as ways to rejuvenate swards in pastures and meadows with discussion of the different types of machinery to tackle the various grassland management issues and advice on selecting and using machinery for the best results.
The Blythe Inn event will include a working demonstration of a flat lifter (by kind permission of Tim Pratt) whilst the event at Offley Grove farm will offer the chance for farmers to bring along an intact spade full of soil for assessment of the condition of soil under their grassland.
The events are for members of the farmer groups in the Blithfield Reservoir and Lonco Brook catchments, but non-members who farm land in the relevant catchment are very welcome.
If you would like to attend one of the events please book your place(s) by telephone 01785 710564 or email firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 4th September 2017
Chris is the facilitator for the Blithfield Reservoir farmers catchment group: he is working with Nina Yiannoukos of South Staffordshire Water (SSW) to set up training for group members who need certificates on field and knapsack sprayers. Farmers can no longer use ‘grandfather rights’ to use sprayers but must have proper training to use modern sprays safely, protecting people and water. SSW has contributed to the cost so that up to ten members of the Group can take the course this October. Nina said that research shows the water company can save money by working with farmers to reduce pollution in drinking water catchments. This positive initiative benefits farmers, the environment and customers of South Staffs Water.
Enthusiastic members of Lonco Brook farmer’s catchment group spent a pleasant evening on the farm of group Chair Nick Galbraith on 3rd July. They came to view his Countryside Stewardship scheme options and discuss the ins and outs of the scheme with Nick and with Chris Seabridge. Nick has established a practical scheme that contributes to business income, makes the farm look attractive and helps support wildlife and game birds on the land, including English partridge. He explained how the scheme helps his farming business, whilst Chris summarised the do’s and don’ts for successful management of the various options. Members found the evening very useful and will be looking seriously at using the scheme themselves.
Farmers from the Lonco Brook catchment met up to launch a new group that will work to improve the environment around them. Fifteen farmers attended the initial meeting of the group on 12 December 2016 and heard Chris Seabridge outline the challenges he sees facing farmers in managing land to meet consumer and social demands whilst maintaining viable businesses. He explained his belief that farmers need to organise themselves to meet these challenges and that this group, with support from Natural England, offers them an opportunity to get started.
Natural England has provided funding support to farmer groups, also known as farmer clusters, who will work together to achieve aims wider than the boundaries of their farms. Severn Trent Water are also strongly supportive of groups based in their drinking water safeguard zones. Both bodies provide grants to farmers and both came along to support the meeting and tell group members about the grants available. Farmers heard presentations from Severn Trent Water explaining the importance of the catchment for drinking water supply and the grant schemes they have available to help reduce diffuse pollution from agricultural land whilst Ken Downward explained the Catchment Sensitive Farming grants available from Natural England.
Nick Galbraith volunteered to become Chair of the group and will work with his steering group, Tim Belcher and Piers Bratton, together with Chris to develop a programme of events that will help farmers acheive the group’s aims.
The Lonco Brook catchment group has 16 members farming 2352 hectares, who aim to reduce the losses of nutrients and pesticides from their land as well as to enhance habitats and wildlife. They hope to expand by signing up other farmers in the catchment.
Farmers around Blithfield Reservoir are demonstrating their commitment to a clean and thriving environment by joining a group set up to promote environmental improvement and cleaner water in the catchment. Over 30 farmers attended the initial meeting of the group on 28 November 2016 and heard Chris Seabridge outline the challenges facing the catchment. He was supported by speakers Nina Yiannoukos from South Staffordshire Water and the Voluntary Initiative’s Patrick Goldsworthy. Local farmer Tim Pratt volunteered to Chair the group and will work with Chris to set up a steering group and develop a programme of events that will help farmers to deliver real improvements, supported by the SPRING grant scheme run by South Staffordshire Water.
The Blithfield group has members farming over 2300 hectares of land in the catchment who aim to reduce the losses of nutrients and pesticides from their land as well as to enhance habitats and wildlife. They hope to expand by signing up farmers who manage land downstream, but who’s land drainage is pumped back up into Blithfield reservoir through South Staffordshire Water’s pump back scheme.
Members listening to presentations at the event
Chris Seabridge and Associates organised two engaging meetings supported by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and considering ‘Water on your Farm’: looking to improve resource protection as part of viable farm businesses. CFE aims to help farmers to use the right measure in the right place at the right time and demonstrate the benefits that farmers provide to the environment.
Our first event was an evening meeting in Shifnal to look at the practicalities and benefits of a switch to controlled traffic farming (CTF). Speakers included Tim Chamen, international expert on CTF, and Nigel Adams, a local farmer who is implementing the technique. An interested audience of local farmers enjoyed a stimulating discussion around Nigel’s experiences with the technique, informed by Tim’s expertise. Ken Downward of Natural England backed up the CFE messages by providing information on grants available to support changes that will improve water resource protection.
The lead speaker for the second evening was Nick Tilt, a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) farmer from near Ludlow, who talked about his multi-faceted farm business which includes egg-layers and heifer rearing supported by a successful arable enterprise on around 220 hectares as well as diversification into related enterprises such as importing dairy equipment and letting property: all aimed at ensuring the core business is viable and sustainable. Nick explained his farming philosophy, which is based on keeping the land in good heart and the bottom line healthy. His approach to soil management and care for the environment means that improvements in soil and water quality follow naturally. He told the audience how LEAF fits in with his approach to sustainable farming and helps to improve his returns. He has made good use of grants for environmental improvement, working with Severn Trent Water and with Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) to make it easier to implement the improvements he wanted. Ben Young of Severn Trent Water and Jo Baird from CSF explained more about grant availability.
After a very tight competition between excellent entries this year’s Whitegrove award, judged by Kate Mayne, Chair of CFE in Shropshire, has been won by Martin Osborne and his sons James and William, who together run Union Hall Farm near Kinver. They manage beef and combinable crops enterprises on 279 hectares in rolling countryside near Kinver Edge, which includes some difficult land. Changes in farming operations and systems have made the family consider value and productivity across all their enterprises and working in this beautiful setting inspired them to make careful and strategic use of agri-environment options. Whitegrove judge Kate Mayne said “Thoughtful plans regarding the suckler beef herd show the family are carefully considering how to integrate the needs of species-rich grassland with producing quality, marketable beef.” She praised their knowledge and enthusiasm in wildlife and environmental enhancement and their excellent species records, which show a drive for continual improvement.
Judge Kate Mayne and James Osborne examine one of the agri-environment options
David Dale of B.J. Dale & Co Ltd, 2015 winners of the Whitegrove Farm Conservation trophy, is kindly hosting the annual Chris Seabridge Associates farm walk on 22nd June, 7.00 pm, at Bagots Park Estate, WS15 3ER
The Estate covers over 850 acres of predominantly arable land, with diversification into a micro (Freedom) brewery and a thriving commercial shoot. The farm is in Entry Level Stewardship and also has a Woodland Grant Scheme. With over 20 acres of recently-planted woodland, which has enhanced conservation and sporting interest, the estate is ensuring that future generations will still see this beautiful countryside at its best.
Agriculture is facing many economic challenges and at the same time is asked to deliver outcomes for the environment. This farm walk is an opportunity to see how a successful business has utilised agri-environment schemes for environmental, agricultural and sporting benefit.
The Whitegrove Trophy (Farm Conservation) is kindly sponsored by Staffordshire & Birmingham Agricultural Society. The competition asesses how environmental management is successfully integrated alongside commercial farming.