Race on the find top wildlife friendly farmer

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FARMERS across West Sussex have been entering 2012’s competition since it launched earlier this year, but today the RSPB South East is reminding those who’ve yet to throw their hat into the ring to do so before it’s too late.

With applications only being accepted until Friday April 20, the race is on to find the UK’s top wildlife friendly farmer.

The award aims to find farmers who put in the most work on their land to help countryside species and is run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph.

Bruce Fowkes, RSPB farmland advisor in the South East said: “Past winners in the south east have included dairy, arable and livestock farms, so it’s worth applying no matter what kind of farm you have.

“The judges will be looking for efforts to promote wildlife on farmland, for example by providing nesting habitat, and summer and winter food for birds.”

A large proportion of land in the south east is farmland, which supports a wide range of animals and plants.

Unfortunately, some of these species such as lapwing, brown hare and cornflower are struggling, and farmers hold the key to their future.

Bruce added, “We fully recognise the challenges involved in trying to protect wildlife while producing vast amounts of food. Your farm doesn’t have to resemble a nature reserve to qualify – even small efforts here and there can make an important difference to species in trouble.”

After the closing date, entries will be shortlisted to eight regional winners then a panel of experts will decide which four should go through to the national finals. The UK public will then decide the winner by casting their votes online, via The Telegraph or at country shows throughout the summer. There is also a highly commended category to recognise the efforts of farmers who have excelled in their support of farmland wildlife.

All the details on how to enter can be found on the RSPB website at www.rspb.org.uk/natureoffarming.

Martin Harper, RSPB Director of Conservation and one of the competition’s judges, said: “We’re really looking forward to showcasing even more of the UK’s wildlife friendly farmers in 2012. Some go to considerable lengths to integrate conservation measures into their farming systems and this competition provides an opportunity to highlight these efforts to the wider public, as well as promote conservation techniques amongst land managers.

“There’s a growing swell of farmers who have proved nature can go hand in hand with a healthy farm business and we know there are more out there. If you’re one of them, then enter the competition now while there’s still time.”

Farmland bird populations have fallen by 50 per cent since 1970 and it is only by protecting wildlife-rich farming systems and encouraging more uptake of science-backed conservation measures on farmland that species like lapwings, skylarks and grey partridges will bounce back.

The EU LIFE+ Programme funds RSPB work which supports wildlife-friendly farming that furthers sustainable development in the European Union.