Monday, 2 July 2007

Farmer wins wildlife award for lapwing conservation

Northern Lapwings are swooping and tumbling above fields in Norfolk following a farmer’s decision to put the birds before his profits, making Steve Mumford the RSPB’s Lapwing Champion for 2007. His award will be presented at a reception at the Royal Show this evening.

Steve manages Lower Farm, Narborough, for farmer Chris Knights, who once had more of the rare Stone-curlew on his land than he did lapwings. That startling fact sparked five years of work to revive the latter’s fortunes.

Mr Mumford and his team of 15 started managing the farm’s grasslands to provide nesting and feeding sites for Northern Lapwings and all decisions on cropping are now based on the birds rather than the economics.

Whole fields have been left fallow because they have attracted too many nesting lapwings for farm work not to harm them – one field this year had 27 pairs - and three fields have been taken out of production permanently and are now covered with grass and wetland areas - the conditions needed by the birds.

Longer vegetation around arable fields at 400-acre Lower Farm means there is plenty of food for both adults and young birds; chemicals are used sparingly and nest sites marked and avoided. Steve said: “Birds and other wildlife are top of the agenda for Chris and his enthusiasm for birds has carried everyone else along.”

As a result of all the work, lapwing numbers have jumped from 30 pairs in 2002 to 54 pairs this year.

“We’ve also had two Stone-curlew pairs at Lower Farm for the first time and many of my farm workers are avid birdwatchers now,” Steve added. “We plough around nests of any ground-nesting bird we find. It’s an approach that runs through the business.

“Chris and his son Paul have always wanted to help wildlife. When it was fashionable to rip out hedges, make big fields or make big heaths they wouldn’t do it. We aren’t influenced by fashion or fads, or government incentives, so we are really delighted to have won the RSPB’s award.

Andy Cotton, Agriculture Adviser for the RSPB, said: “Steve has engendered a culture amongst his 15 farm workers where the birds come first. Lapwings are now breeding very successfully on the farm and some of them are moving into new areas as their numbers grow.

“Lower Farm is a first-class example of how an arable farm, with top-grade productive soils and high-value crops, can operate in a commercial environment but also benefit wildlife at the same time.”

Photo: Steve Young