Natural recognition for farmer’s conservation

A UDIMORE farmer has been praised in a national award scheme for his efforts to conserve wildlife.

Roddy Mair, of Roadend Farm, was highly commended in the Nature of Farming Award, run by the RSPB and backed by The Telegraph.

He produces grain and raises sheep while also providing food and habitat for a range of species, including several birds of conservation concern.

Mr Mair said: “I love seeing wildlife on the farm, particularly the Barn Owls flying slowly and hovering as they search for prey in the early evening.

“We have just had our owl boxes surveyed and two have breeding pairs with fledglings.

“I also enjoy seeing the winter waders, and the Lapwings with their chicks on the scrape in the breeding season.”

The UK’s fastest declining mammal, the Water Vole, is also benefiting from plants left to grow along the farm’s river banks to protect them from erosion.

This small, furry mammal, made famous in The Wind in the Willows as the character ‘Ratty’, prefers vegetated banks next to slow-flowing water. But it has declined in 90% of the areas where it used to live because of man-made changes to its habitat and predation by American Mink.

Mr Mair works with ecologists in the local area to carry out water vole surveys and put up bird nest boxes.

His conservation work is supported by agri-environment schemes, which provide funding to farmers to protect wildlife on their farms. He now hopes to build on his achievements by entering the more advanced Higher Level Stewardship scheme.

Mr Mair said: “I would like to see more small birds on the farm, in particular Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Skylark and Linnet. Entering HLS will really help, because it takes time and money to achieve an increase in wild bird populations.”

Bruce Fowkes, farmland conservation advisor for the RSPB South East said: “Mr Mair is doing valuable work on his farm for species that are in real trouble, and it’s fantastic to see that he’s planning to take it a step further.

“He and many other land managers depend on agri-environment schemes in order to balance food production with wildlife protection, so the recent cuts in the EU budget for wildlife-friendly farming are worrying.

“If the UK Government is going to meet its target to halt the decline in biodiversity by 2020, it needs to fight to protect the schemes, because it’s going to need the help of farmers like Mr Mair.”