Saturday, 7 June 2014

What makes a national conservation winner?

Ashley receiving the trophy from the Duke of Westminster 
Last week I went to Norfolk to attend the 37th FWAG Silver Lapwing awards, which this year was held at the Raveningham estate near Norwich, and is the home of Sir Nicholas Bacon.  This lovely estate has been in the Bacon family since 1735 and is managed to a very high standard by Jake Fiennes, who has planted flower rich margins everywhere, grows large areas of wild bird seed mixes for his beloved Grey partridge, and also looks after a wonderful marsh that is currently teeming with wader chicks.

The award celebrates the environmental achievements of farmers, and is aimed at those in particular who show outstanding commitment to good environmental practice. The award is sponsored by Waitrose, a business that leads the field, certainly amongst the Supermarkets chains, for its green credentials.

The winner of this national award was Ashley Cooper from Hill farm, Gestingthorpe in Essex. The 280 hectare (692 acres) farm is predominantly in arable cropping and the judges commented on the high quality of the crops alongside the protection and enhancement of habitats and species on the farm. Ashley is particularly keen to show school children around the farm, demonstrating the process of growing food while carefully looking after the countryside at the same time.

For me, the highlight of the day was Ashley’s speech, which was excellent. Firstly it was short! Secondly, you could immediately tell that he spoke from the heart and had great passion for the little piece of England that he looks after. In fact he became quite emotional – such a huge plus in my eyes. Lastly, he spoke about how important advice had been throughout his journey, particularly from his FWAG adviser Rebecca Inman, who he thanked profusely.
Rebecca has worked for FWAG since 1998 and I have probably known her for most of that time, always rating her as a top notch conservation adviser, who is greatly respected by the farmers in her “patch”.

So, what in my opinion makes a national winner of a competition such as this? Well, the ingredients were laid out right in front of us, for all to see  – passion coupled with great advice.

Well done Ashley and Rebecca – the award is richly deserved.


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