FARMERS in the Rye and Battle area are being urged to step up to the mark to help conservation as the RSPB launches its annual search to find the UK’s most wildlife-friendly farmer.
The Nature of Farming Award celebrates farmers who work hardest to help threatened countryside wildlife, such as skylarks, brown hares, bees, butterflies and plants.
It is run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph.
Last year’s southeast winner and national finalist, Peter Knight, impressed the judges with his South Downs farm in Arundel, which hosts an array of rare birds, mammals and butterflies.
Mr. Knight said: “It is important to us to achieve a balance between farming commercially alongside a way that encourages wildlife on the farm.
“The increase in wildlife has been largely down to the implementation of Natural England’s agri-environmental schemes.”
Applications for this year’s award will be accepted until the 18 April. There is always a high volume of entries with numbers increasing year on year and the charity hopes this year will be its best yet.
After the closing date, judges will select eight regional winners, and then a panel of experts will decide which four should go through to the national finals. There will also be a highly commended category, to recognise the efforts of farmers who have excelled in their support of farmland wildlife.
When the competition reaches its final stage, control will shift to the UK public, as they decide the overall winner.
People can cast their votes online, over the phone, via The Telegraph, or at country shows throughout the summer.
RSPB Head of Conservation Management and one of this year’s judges, Nick Droy, said: “More and more farmers are recognising that running a profitable farm business and helping wildlife on your land can go hand in hand.
“The RSPB provides advice to help farmers do their bit for nature on their farm and we’ll support them every step of the way, but ultimately, it’s them and their local communities that do the hard work. They’re the real heroes.
“The recent EU Budget deal dealt a terrible hand to Europe’s wildlife, with potentially huge cuts to wildlife friendly farming schemes.
“But there is hope for the UK, a country which has led the way in investing in this field. If Owen Paterson and his colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland show leadership and use their powers wisely to ensure that as much funding as possible will go towards those farmers and land managers who provide the greatest benefits for wildlife and the countryside, then all will not be lost. In excess of 30,000 RSPB supporters lobbied David Cameron.”
All the details on how to enter can be found on the RSPB website at – www.rspb.org.uk/natureoffarming