Thursday 24 August 2017 07:40:56 AM

Ballyalton Farmer Wins Silver in RSPB UK Awards
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WILDLIFE friendly farmer Jack Kelly from Ballyalton near Downpatrick has been awarded a second place in the RSPB’s prestigious Nature of Farming Award.

The award celebrates the amazing work farmers across the UK are doing for nature and is run in partnership with Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and The Telegraph.

Jack, the Northern Ireland regional winner, was in a nail-biting UK-wide final and his vote count was very close with the overall winner… only 250 votes separated the gold and silver spots.  Henry Edmunds, the UK winner who just pipped Jack runs a 1,600 hectare mixed organic farm in Wiltshire.

Top of the tree. Jack Kelly with his Northern Ireland and UK awards.

The RSPB’s Hayley Sherwin said: “We are all enormously proud of Jack for being awarded silver. He is an excellent wildlife ambassador for Northern Ireland and this competition is a great way to highlight what farmers are doing for biodiversity across the UK. We would like to thank everyone who showed their support for the finalists.”

Speaking at his farm, Jack Kelly said: “I have really spent my working life on our 90-acre family farm which I love. It has just been a passion with me. Back in the earlier days I qualified for the Countryside Management Scheme which helped me plant important small bird cover there which was an important step forward.

“I am just delighted at the great diversity of wildlife on the farm. We even have bats flying around and the swallows use the out houses in the summertime. There are hares and hedgehogs and a range of rodents.

“The A-cut hedges are particularly useful in encouraging small animals and birds such as the threatened yellow hammer and hedge sparrow, and are first class for nesting birds. They help maintain the vermin population which is so important as a source of food for our barn owls.  The farm is just a haven for all sorts of birds.

“In the winter we leave the winter stubble for the birds to feed on. The spring cereal is planted out in April and harvested in September, while the winter cereal is planted in October for the following September and is a slower crop to work with.

“There is a stream too that runs through the farm and I ensure that it too is in good condition as otters sometimes run up it, and there are sticklebacks and eels there too.

“Like all farmers, I am keeping my eye on the present CAP discussions to see where it is all heading in the future.  I would like to express my great thanks to the RSPB for all of their assistance, and also to FWAG and DARD.

“It is an enormous pleasure working on this farm. I have been a conservationist since my early days in farming and with a little care we can all make the world of difference to our countryside.”

Ballyalton farmer Jack Kelly chats to South Down MP Margaret Ritchie about the range of trees and shrubs he has planted around his 90-acre farm to help

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie Congratulates Jack Kelly

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie has offered her congratulations to Ballyalton farmer Mr Jack Kelly, on a runner up place in the RSPB’s national

Ms Ritchie said: “This is a tremendous recognition for Jack and is a reflection of the sterling work that he carries out in supporting wildlife on his farm. Jack has been working to  maintain farmland biodiversity so that future generations can experience the countryside and all its rich and varied forms of wildlife.

“Jack successfully combines his farm work with conserving this biodiversity, and I am delighted that his efforts have been recognised with this high placed award.
He has brought great credit to Ballyalton, and I hope that his efforts will encourages other farmers to follow his practices.”

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Jack’s work has embraced wildlife, wild bird cover, conservation cereals, low chemical input and classic ‘A-shaped’ hedges.

This year over 17,000 people showed their support for the wildlife-friendly farmers across the UK. Hayley Sherwin added:  “The huge amount of support Jack and the other finalists received shows that the public are great supporters of these farmers and recognise the important work they do to conserve nature and to help secure the future of farmland wildlife.”

Jack was presented with his award at Stormont at the RSPB Farmers Breakfast. This event recognises the work that farmers do and gives them an opportunity to discuss issues and raise questions with their MP’s, MLA’s and MEP’s.

The Nature of Farming Award is funded by the EU Life+ programme, safeguarding the future of our farmland birds under the EU Birds Directive.