5 October 2012
Rob Allan from Oxfordshire has scooped the prestigious ‘Countryside Farmer of the Year’ Award at this year’s Farmers Weekly Awards ceremony, which took place in London on Thursday 4 October.
Over 1,200 people attended the Farmers Weekly 2012 awards evening – the ‘Oscars’ of the farming world. The event was hosted by Lord Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games (LOCOG).
All three of the farmers who were shortlisted for the Countryside Farmer of the Year 2012 Award are customers of Natural England. They’re all signed up to and enthusiastic ambassadors of Environmental Stewardship and actively carrying out valuable conservation work on their land as well as running successful farm businesses.
Since taking over the farm management reins at Upton Estate near Banbury 13 years ago, Rob Allan has transformed the profits and sustainability of this attractive arable estate. Rob set out to stabilise incomes on the estate when he took over and he has achieved that by using environmental schemes, wildlife premiums and a green park venture: "We've created a business ready to take on future political and economic challenges," he says.
The introduction of environmental schemes has been a key part of his plan. An HLS agreement, which provides a welcome annual payment as well as attracting capital works funding, has enhanced the estate's infrastructure and improved production efficiency, while dramatically increasing wildlife.
With the professional advice and support of Matt Willmott of Natural England’s local Land Management team, Rob’s HLS agreement has helped enhance the estate as a haven for wildlife. Flower-rich margins complement adjoining crops, which are home to a growing population of butterflies and bumblebees. ‘Scallops’, which are patches of bare soil bordering the woodland, have been cleared to provide habitat for butterflies, moths and solitary bees.
Geoff Sansome, Natural England’s Director of Land Management (South), said: “If you need convincing that integrating farming and wildlife really does pay, then Rob Allan is the man to do it. Not only does every crop on the estate attract a wildlife premium, but the integration of farming with the environment is providing the estate with a vibrant, and sustainable, future."
Geoff, who was invited by Farmers Weekly to be one of the judges for the awards, was joined at the ceremony by Natural England’s Chair, Poul Christensen, to see Rob presented with his award.
Rob’s fully integrated approach to farming and wildlife is paying big dividends. Now, 13.5% of available arable acres are in ELS and his HLS agreement has helped to boost yields on the cropped area by 30% over the past 10 years. Environmental stewardship has helped to boost crop yields, ease management, provide new opportunities for diversification and deliver a wildlife premium of at least £25,000 on this year's crops.
Rob has developed a very close team, which includes the owners, trustees and employees. And it is clear that there is enormous respect and trust on both sides. Rob believes that "putting the best people in the right place delivers huge success", which is why he has also forged close working relationships and partnership with many external organisations.
Geoff added: “Rob’s ability to take everyone around him on this journey is what impressed the judges in this very hard-fought contest between three outstanding finalists.”
NWF Agriculture sponsored the Award and David Warrington, managing director, said: “Caring for the environment is at the heart of our business. That is why we are so delighted to support the outstanding innovation and commitment of these three finalists.”
All three of the ‘Countryside Farmer of the Year’ finalists are Environmental Stewardship agreement holders. The runners up were:
Andrew Hughes: Maximising profit from the most productive land of the Trinley Estate in Hampshire and a profitable storage diversification has allowed Andrew to pursue his passion for the environment. With the support of his local Natural England adviser Harold Makant, Andrew’s ES scheme has helped replace lost habitats and encourage the local community to enjoy them.
Andrew Brown: Andrew is a high-profile champion of farming's role in enhancing the environment. This passion drives his management of the 252ha mixed farm in Leicestershire, which with advice from Natural England’s Martin Banham, has become a haven to birds, bats and butterflies.
Meanwhile, another Natural England customer, Henry Edmunds, of the Cholderton Estate in Wiltshire, was recently announced as the first English winner of the RSPB/Telegraph ‘Nature of Farming’ Award. Henry has devoted more than 30 years of his farming career to balancing the needs of modern agriculture and the preservation of the countryside on his farm on the Downs. At Cholderton, sheep graze chalk grassland that is filled with flowers and buzzing with insects, including rare bumblebees, moths and butterflies. Corn buntings, lapwings and grey partridges thrive amongst the crops, alongside harvest mice and rare arable plants such as cornflower and pheasant’s-eye. This abundance of wildlife sits successfully alongside food production and the farm helps deliver a healthy landscape, economy and environment.
Careful management has seen lapwing numbers increasing at Cholderton, and the Estate also carries out work that helps turtle doves. Over 450 moth species have been recorded, 10% of which are classed as UK rarities. Woodlands have managed to attract back the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary; a rare butterfly that has been recorded in three separate areas across the farm.
Mr Edmunds added: “I am grateful for the advice and support I have received over the years from both the RSPB and Natural England, together with much encouragement and help from many interested and knowledgeable people.”
Harold Makant is the long-standing Natural England local advisor for Henry and the Cholderton Estate. Welcoming news of the award, Harold said: “Henry is a great ambassador for what can be achieved through Natural England’s stewardship schemes and a very deserving winner of the RSPB/Telegraph Nature of Farming Award.”
The Nature of Farming Awards 2012 is sponsored by The Telegraph, and supported by Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation. The Award is funded by the EU Life+ Programme.
Natural England administers Environmental Stewardship schemes, comprising Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), on behalf of Defra. These agri-environment schemes reward farmers and land managers who conserve and enhance their natural and historic environment.