Who is the most wildlife-friendly farmer in the UK? It is a question that the RSPB is trying to answer with its Nature of Farming Award, now in its fourth year.
I recently helped conservationists from Butterfly Conservation
and of course the RSPB
to whittle down eight ‘semi-finalists’ in this year’s competition to four ‘finalists’ – these four now go to a public vote
, which runs until the end of August.
I was bowled over by just how much some of our farmers are doing to help often rare species to thrive on their land.
Of course, they receive funding through environmental stewardship schemes, but it’s a dead cert that the money doesn’t compensate for the amount of thought and effort (I’ve heard people particularly complain about the paperwork – plus ca change!) that goes into creating ‘scrapes’, ‘skylark plots’, ‘beetle banks’ and other wildlife-friendly measures.
One of last year’s short-listed farmers, Ian Boyd, lives just north of me in the heart of the Cotswolds, and I visited Whittingdon Lodge, near Cheltenham, for a piece I was doing for the magazine.
What especially impressed was that he was both knowledgeable and passionate – when you see what people such as Ian are doing, you begin to have faith, once more, in the notion of farmers as ‘stewards of the countryside’.
So I think it’s really important that our farmers are recognised for going the ‘extra mile’ for the birds and the bees, though not necessarily for the badgers.
Last year, more than 6,000 people voted for their winner, so why not add your voice? It only takes a few minutes, after all, and you could win a weekend break for two if you do.
James is the Environment Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine. Meet him and the rest of the team here.