Priors Hardwick farmer, Hugh Darbishire, has won the prestigious Forsyth Lapwing Challenge Cup for the second year running. The cup was presented by Anthony Forsyth at a Syngenta barbeque and plot trials event at Chesterton Fields Farm on 3 July 2017.
Organised by The Warwickshire Rural Hub and sponsored by Syngenta, the award is given to the Warwickshire farm judged to be attaining the optimal balance of profitable farming alongside environmental conservation and ecological enhancement.
With more farms entering than ever before this year, the two other short-listed finalists were Rebecca Sunang-Joret of Hodnell Manor, Ladbroke and Roger Mann of Norton Lindsey.
Hugh Darbishire successfully incorporated a range wildflower margins rich in pollen and nectar, buffer strips, wild bird cover and winter food habitats, alongside his arable cropping and grassland for the sheep enterprise on his 180 hectare (450 acre) Hill Farm at Priors Hardwick.
Over 10% of the farm is dedicated to HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) management of environmental areas.
“We are looking to protect the existing environmental features that we have, including ridge and furrow pasture dating back to medieval times and old Victorian hay meadows. But there are always ways to enhance areas or change the way that we manage things that can further enhance the ecological value, without impinging on the way that we can farm profitably,” he said.
Ponds have been restored, hedgerows planted and pockets of woodland created – all aspects that provide a diverse habitat for wildlife, but have also enhanced the farming practices. Hugh is extremely clear that the sustainability of the farm is dependent on economic viability of the business, alongside the long-term management of soils and the environment.
“We aim to farm the areas that suit modern practices in a commercial way, and the areas that don’t suit it are managed more traditionally and extensively farmed. It all seems far more harmonious.” Hugh recently opened his farm as part of Open Farm Sunday, to demonstrate his environmental work to the wider public.
Belinda Bailey, Syngenta Environmental Initiatives Manager and judge of the Forsyth Lapwing Challenge Cup, highlighted that all the entrants to this year’s competition had demonstrated that commercial farmland can be proactively managed to enhance the environment, alongside productive sustainable intensive agriculture.
“There are many ways that ecological features, such as pollen and nectar margins or wild bird food mixes, can add enormously to the diversity of wildlife on the farm, as well as protecting soils and water resources with a truly multi-functional landscape,” she said. “In the current agri-environment system they can also make a positive contribution to overall farm profitability and long-term sustainability.”
The Forsyth Lapwing Challenge Cup, originated in 1983, has been resurrected by the Warwickshire Rural Hub after a gap of several years. The winners received Syngenta Operation Pollinator seed mixes, for annual wildflower pollen and nectar habitats and Bees ‘N Seeds mix to encourage pollinating insects and overwinter wild birds.