Award for environment farmer

A tranquil farm which is home to an unlikely variety of wildlife has been recognised for its conservation management.

A tranquil farm which is home to an unlikely variety of wildlife has been recognised for its conservation management.

Hall Farm in Knettishall, near Thetford, is run by farmer James Bucher who aims to encourage nature to thrive using various conservation techniques.

Now he has been recognised by the RSPB and emerged as the regional winner of the Nature of Farming Award.

The award has fallen to Norfolk for the first time since it began and celebrates farmers managing their land in ways which help birds and wildlife.

Mr Bucher, 35, who left his job as a derivates investor in London to take over the farm from his father, John, in 2003, works hard alongside four members of staff to encourage species such as Stone Curlew, Skylark, butterflies, and barn owls.

He has created Skylark plots in winter cereals by keeping four metre square patches of ground free of the crop, planted fields of barley which will remain un-harvested to allow birds and other wildlife to take advantage of the corn, and converted an area of land to wet grassland.

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This is kept under control by grazing sheep and is attractive to farmland birds such as snipe and yellow tail.

Nectar rich areas have also been developed, hedges planted around fields, and margins cultivated for arable plants such as Flixweed.

Havesting is also only done once a year and stubble is left in the fields during winter which can help birds such as the Skylark.

Mr Bucher, who lives in Garboldisham with his partner Nina, and two children Jago, two, and six-month-old Florence, said: “My dad's generation were encouraged to plough every piece of land and now it's gone the other way. I'm quite environmentally friendly and into conservation.

“I think the public also want to see their products coming from environmentally run farms so it makes good business sense.”

Mr Bucher works to a Natural England scheme called the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), having completed the entry level, which is a 10 year programme designed to encourage farmers to adopt environmental management.

His 500 hectare farm, which includes the former RAF Kettishall base, is made up of one fifth sugar beet, one fifth which is rented out for vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, and three fifths wheat and barley. The rest is dedicated HLS land and used to encourage as much wildlife as possible.

The farm, which was bought as a dairy farm by Mr Bucher's father in 1966, also includes a vineyard, made up of 3,000 Pinot Noir and Bacchus vines, Gressingham ducks which are reared for eight or nine weeks before gracing the tables of many local restaurants, and straw processing.

Speaking about the Nature of Farming Award, farmland conservation officer, Simon Tonkin, said: “James is a truly deserving winner of this award and really knows how valuable it is to implement wildlife friendly measures onto his farm.

“Hall Farm is one of the best examples of integrated management and location of wildlife friendly options I have seen in England.”

He, along with other regional winners from across the UK, will now wait to hear if they have been selected as one of the top four wildlife friendly farmers in the UK by the judges from RSPB, BBC Countryfile, Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation, when the overall winner will be decided by a public vote.