County Down farmer Philip Bell has been crowned Northern Ireland’s most Wildlife Friendly Farmer at the Farming Life and Danske Bank Awards.
This is the fourth year that RSPB NI has sponsored the Wildlife Friendly Farmer of the Year award and, as always, there was a long list of impressive applicants. More than 300 people attended the event at the La Mon Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast on Thursday evening.
With such worthy nominees the judges had a difficult decision, but Philip Bell from Ballynahinch was ultimately crowned the winner and presented with the welly boot trophy.
Philip is extremely passionate about wildlife and farming and said: “I’m keen to demonstrate that they can both strive side by side. Since 2013 we’ve has been working with conservation advisors from RSPB NI, who have encouraged us to incorporate conservation measures into the farm management.
“On the farm we have a number of Irish Moiled cattle and a small suckler herd. I’ve enjoyed planting out the exceptional wild bird cover and creating a vital food source that sustains farmland birds in winter.
“Our hedgerows are well-managed and we have also planted a native woodland. One of the ongoing projects on the farm is reverting a rye grass field back to a species-rich meadow.”
Philip had been ‘highly commended’ in the category last year but this year he pipped worthy runners-up Tom and Patricia Gilbert from Ballylagan Organic Farm in Straid in Co Antrim to the top prize.
Claire Barnett, Conservation Team Leader for RSPB NI, said: “All of the farmers who applied do amazing things for nature but we’re delighted that Philip, who goes the extra mile to help wildlife thrive on his land, has been recognised.
“I think I speak for all the judges when I say that we were incredibly impressed with both farms, and choosing the winner was extremely difficult.
“Philip is not only genuinely interested in wildlife, his work is representative of a huge number of farms across Northern Ireland and he is also a great advocate for producing space for wildlife on a working farm.
“It has been a great night at the La Mon and we’re looking forward to working even more closely with Northern Ireland’s farmers to ensure that nature has a home in our countryside.”
Since 2013, Philip has had two bird surveys undertaken by trained RSPB volunteers on the farm. These surveys have shown the presence of priority species such as reed buntings, linnets, grasshopper warblers and house sparrows. In three years, the number of species recorded on the farm has increased from 30 to 32, with an increase in the number of linnets and reed buntings making their home on the farm.
One of 17 awards handed out on the night, the Wildlife Friendly Farmer award recognises those farmers who engage in maintenance and restoration or creation of specific habitats on the farm, resulting in conservation measures which benefit the wildlife on the farm. The farmers also demonstrate why farmland biodiversity is so important to them.