Due to our Conservation efforts on the family farm and nursery
we have won the RSPB 'Nature of Farming Award'
In May this year, Michael Calvert of Barnwell Farms, Greyabbey, was declared Northern Ireland’s winner in the prestigious Nature of Farming Awards. He was also short listed for the UK-wide finals where he can now be voted for the most wildlife-friendly farmer in the UK. The award, jointly sponsored by the RSPB, Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation and BBC’s Countryfile, was set up to recognise the tremendous work that farmers can do for wildlife. The criteria for entry stipulated that successful nominees had to farm in harmony with nature as well as be financially sustainable.
In the blood
Michael’s farming credentials go way back. It’s in the blood, as they say. His father – Gerald Calvert – was a poultry farmer in Ballywalter, Co Down, back in the day when ‘everything was extensive’. “My dad used to breed hens before the modern hybrids ” says Michael. “He hatched Light Sussex x Rhode Island Red and sold them all over Northern Ireland and parts of the south. In those days the day-old chicks used to take the bus with other commuters,” he chuckles.
“The hens would roam freely,” he says. “To supplement their diet we brought seaweed from Ballywalter beach and each hen house had its own seaweed pile. The hens scratched through the pile for insects that thrived on the seaweed.”
It is clear that Michael’s appreciation for nature came from his farming background. “You took it for granted,” he says. “Nature was everywhere. My dad rotated the area the hens fed on, letting the ground rest for several months. This reduced the chances for disease as well as the worm burden. In that way he maintained the health of his flock naturally."
Right from the word go he worked extensively, stocking the land in such a way that avoided the intensive use of fertilizer. He avoids the use of feed concentrates, except in exceptional circumstances, and where possible relies on clover swards to fix the nitrogen in the soil, instead of high inputs of nitrogen fertiliser. This gives him quality beef from grass.
When the Countryside Management Scheme (CMS) opened, he joined it immediately. This formalised the work he was doing and was able to get money for it as well. His hedgerows and rough grass margins are features he gets funding for. His farm has a diverse range of habitats, which explains the amount of wildlife he has.
Wildlife on Michael’s farm
He grows spring cereals without insecticides and with limited herbicides to ensure weedy stubbles remains for not just the yellowhammers but also the skylarks, tree sparrows, linnets and reed buntings on the farm.
Bullfinches, barn owls, Irish hares, Irish stoats and butterflies make use of newly planted hedgerows and margins, as do sedge warblers and whitethroats, peacock and red admiral butterflies. Michael has also created several new areas of woodland using native trees.
An area of fenland on the 80-hectare farm is home to breeding snipe, smooth newts and dragonflies as well as common spotted-orchids, meadowsweet, marsh ragwort, marsh cinquefoil, lesser spearwort, yellow flag iris, marsh bedstraw and purple loosestrife.
Cereal margins around the farm’s spring barley have been introduced to help protect the rare arable weeds found on the farm, including corn marigold, common ramping-fumitory, field pansy, wild pansy, field speedwell, sun spurge, corn spurrey and scarlet pimpernel.
More Details are available from the R.S.P.B. website - http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/farming/natureoffarming/index.asp