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RSPB Agri-environment heroes

Last modified: 21 January 2009

Hilary and Andy Kehoe

Image: The RSPB

Richard and Lyn Anthony - Tythegston Farm, Bridgend,
Richard and Lyn say, “We endeavour to farm productively and efficiently, but in balance with nature and the environment. We get great enjoyment from seeing rare birds such as lapwings and skylarks thriving on habitat we have provided. However, agri-environment schemes such as Tir Gofal are vital to maintain commercial viability, whilst maximizing benefits to wildlife.”

The Anthony’s have been managing their lowland mixed farm since 1997. The farm now consists of 849 hectares and is used for sheep grazing and arable. The arable is cultivated using minimum tillage techniques and includes spring beans and cereals, the latter being left as over wintered stubble, and wildlife cover crops. The Anthony’s have been in Tir Gofal since 2003 and the agreement includes a Special Project for lapwings.  Lapwing conservation is a key part of the Anthony’s farming system and influences many farm decisions. Mustard is sown in early March at a light density providing bare earth for lapwings to nest and some cover for the chicks when they hatch. In order to provide chick rearing habitat, water levels have been raised in one of the grassland fields by ditch blocking and scrapes have been created.

Nigel and Karen Elgar - Cannon Farm, Welshpool
Nigel and Karen say, "Cannon Farm is a partnership with the aim of integrating sound commercial farming with sympathetic management of the environment. In fact, managing this organic farm in a way to enhance biodiversity is a key factor contributing to its profitability. It also adds a dimension beyond money, one of a feeling of intense satisfaction that we are having a positive impact on the environment and wildlife and enjoy sharing this with others by hosting educational visits for people of all ages.”

Nigel and Karen have run the 371 hectare upland beef and sheep farm since
1986. It’s been organic since 1993 and in Tir Gofal since 2000. The farm’s many features for wildlife include blanket bog, woodland, traditional hay meadows and restored hedgerows. Among the species the land supports are black grouse, red grouse, curlew and lapwing. Cannon Farm Partnership has carried out both heather and forest management to benefit black grouse as the farm lies within one of their key breeding area. The late cutting of silage and hay, together with the headland margins that are left, benefit many other species such as curlew.

Hilary & Andy Kehoe, - Morfa Madryn, Gwynedd
Hilary and Andy say, “It has been great to work with so many people committed to making Morfa Madryn a success and see a dramatic increase in breeding birds over the last 12 years.”

The Kehoes’ have managed their 52 hectare lowland beef and sheep farm since 1980. As winter food for livestock, and as a conservation value crop for birds, they grow swedes, vetch, barley and peas. Other wildlife features include marshy grassland, scrub, woodland ‘corridors’ and ancient trees. They have been in Tir Gofal for nine years. What makes Andy and Hilary Kehoe special is the partnership they formed
11 years ago with Gywnedd Council, Conwy Council and the RSPB. Together they compiled a grazing management plan to benefit lapwings. They now manage one of the best sites in Wales for lapwing, which have increased from one breeding pair 11 years ago to 48 breeding pairs today. The Kehoes’ operate an extensive grazing system and ensure a very short sward for nesting lapwing. To maintain high water levels, they have installed sluices in the fields, created shallow pools and installed a solar powered pump. Nesting terraces have been created close to the main scrapes and rush is controlled throughout the area.

Roger Mathias - Furzy Mount Farm, Pembrokeshire
Roger says, “Discovering the diverse species on our farm is a really exciting process. Trying to improve their habitats, whilst the focus on commercial farming is not lost, is the real goal, I’m convinced it can be achieved.”

Roger has been managing his 86 hectare beef and arable farm for 23 years. He grows wild bird cover and 50 acres of winter wheat and spring barley, the latter left as over winter stubble. He has been in Tir Gofal for four years. Roger is very keen to encourage wildlife research on his farm. Having developed a good dialogue with the RSPB over how to improve bird populations on his farm, Roger is now experimenting with wildlife cover crops to deliver winter food for yellowhammers and with ryegrass, silage to see if leaving a section uncut will provide winter food for seed-eating farmland birds. He has also planted small areas of new woodland, and has erected and monitors nest boxes for a variety of bird species.

Alan Morgan - Gadr Farm, Monmouthshire
Alan says “I have always enjoyed wildlife and find it inspiring to see the biodiversity on my farm increasing each year.”

Alan has managed Gadr farm’s 58 hectares since 1985. He grazes sheep and having been in Tir Gofal since 2000, manages his land with wildlife firmly in mind. Improved grassland has been converted to semi-improved; unsprayed root crops and unsprayed spring cereals have been introduced and these cereals left as winter stubble; hedgerows are managed; buffer zones and stream-side corridors have been created; and permissive footpath and educational access encouraged. The numerous ponds, fenced off from livestock, support a variety of wildlife including all three species of native newt. Other farm wildlife includes barn owls, curlew, lapwing, and bats.
One eye-catching and very beautiful aspect of the farm is the 40 acres of woodland, 24 acres of which is ancient, but all packed with plant species including herb paris and butterfly orchids.

Clyde & Helen Parker - Hem House Farm, Wrexham
Helen says “It’s so enjoyable running an extensive farm and working with nature rather than against it. We work in a relaxed fashion and let things run their course - it seems to work!”

Clyde and Helen Parker have been managing their 161 hectare organic dairy farm since 1995 and have been in Tir Gofal for five years. As part of the scheme they have converted improved grassland to semi-improved; are currently converting semi-improved grassland to unimproved; grow unsprayed cereal crops and leave the stubble over winter; take late cuts off the hay field; have created scrapes and leave certain fields wet. River-side corridors have also been fenced off and black poplars planted. Their land, largely classified as water meadow, is a haven for wildlife species. Priority species such as lapwing and curlew breed there, as do yellowhammer, tree sparrow and skylark; and hairy dragonflies, uncommon in Wales, make good use of the ponds. Boxes for both tree sparrow and barn owl have been erected, as have artificial otter holts.

Gareth Roberts - Cwrt, Gwynedd
Gareth says “It’s wonderful to see that all the work you put in really makes a difference. The recent kale I’ve planted for example, is teeming with wildlife. It brings a great sense of satisfaction and pleasure.”

Gareth has farmed 105 hectares of land on the Lleyn peninsula for 12 years, as a mixed farm of beef, sheep and arable. The arable land is mainly barley and oats but recently he has grown a few acres of kale as cattle feed. Gareth joined Tir Gofal five years ago and his options include management of wetlands, reversion to coastal grassland, wildlife cover crops, management of coastal belt, unsprayed arable with over winter stubble and management of hedgerows. Through his wildlife-friendly farming, Gareth is providing nesting habitat and all-year round feeding habitat for many priority bird species, which include both the chough and yellowhammer. Other birds frequently seen on the farm include skylarks and bullfinches and rare arable plants include corn marigold, sharp-leaved fluellen and wild radish.

Gwyn Thomas - Blaen y Nant, Gwynedd
Gwyn says “It’s been my dream for 27 years, whilst working for other farmers, to farm for myself and bring back the balance that existed between nature and farming during my upbringing.”

Gwyn has been a hill-farming tenant of the National Trust for 12 years. The 321 hectare organic farm is extensively grazed by cattle and sheep. Gwyn also makes traditional silage, grows swede and turnip fodder crops and cereal crops for winter feed. Due to a large reduction in grazing and the reintroduction of Welsh black cattle after a gap of 64 years, species rich pasture and heather moorland have been enhanced, providing habitats for declining birds like the ring ouzel and twite - which, in Wales, is now found only in this part of Snowdonia. In the eighth year of his Tir Gofal agreement, Gwyn has used the scheme to restore and recreate habitat - he has rebuilt dry stone walls; planted wildlife corridors alongside the river, enclosed woodland areas and plants 2-3000 saplings each year.

Hywel Williams - Hafoty-Gwyn, Gwynedd
Hywel says “One of the most enjoyable parts of farming is to see the wild birds doing so well on the farm. It’s always a pleasure to see them.”

Hywel has been farming the 80 hectare upland beef and sheep farm since 1964 and has been in Tir Gofal for six years. His land consists of two areas of blanket bog surrounded by pockets of semi-improved and improved pasture, and is located in an important area for breeding lapwing. Benefiting from all the hard work Hywel has put in, up to six pairs of lapwing have nested in recent years. Hywel works closely with the RSPB’s Lapwing Project Officer and Snowdonia National Parks Ecologist. Recent work has included the relocation of overhead power cables to create a more open landscape, but he has for many years, carried out management to help lapwing on his own initiative. Appropriate stocking levels have been used to ensure an ideal sward for nesting and breeding lapwings, and he cuts rushes twice a year. To provide damp areas for chicks to feed, Hywel has created a scrape and leaves areas of blanket bog and wet pastures unimproved. He also minimises disturbance by avoiding field management in the breeding season. Other priority species found on the farm include curlew, snipe, yellowhammer and skylark.

Peter Davies - Slade Farm, Vale of Glamorgan
Peter says “Farming is a wonderful and rewarding way of life, which requires a great deal of care and respect for nature. The strength of my mixed organic farm is that all the key elements - cattle, crops and wildlife - complement each other.”

Peter and his family have run Slade Farm’s 335 hectares for the last 30 years and started managing the farm organically in 2000 and was one of the first entrants in the Tir Gofal scheme in 1999. The organic mixed farm includes arable, beef, sheep and outdoor pigs. Organic spring cereal is grown with stubble left over winter; hay meadows are managed; ponds and scrapes have been dug; wild bird cover is grown; and both stream-side corridors and wildlife corridors connecting woodlands have been developed. The farm’s variety of habitats support a wealth of wildlife. Food in winter and spring, and safe and plentiful nesting sites provide habitat for declining birds such as skylarks, tree sparrows and yellowhammers. Sheep management on the farm has improved the land for choughs, which had been absent from Glamorgan for more than 100 years. Other important wildlife on the farm include great-crested newts, dingy skipper, brown hares and lesser horseshoe bats.

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