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Outstanding organic farm wins Norfolk’s top conservation award

PUBLISHED: 11:51 11 December 2010 | UPDATED: 14:16 14 December 2010

Lord Peter Melchett

Lord Peter Melchett

Archant © 2008

A single mark secured Norfolk’s most prestigious farm conservation award for a mixed organic system in the west of the county.

The unanimous winner, Lord Peter Melchett, said that he was pleased to have won his first award as a farmer in Norfolk.

Clearly delighted, he told the 50-strong audience of his great pleasure at the award and the recognition for the sustained efforts over many years since the 810-acre Courtyard Farm, Ringstead, had been acquired by the family in 1959.

He was presented with the Ian MacNicol Award as 2010 winner of the Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group’s annual competition at its office near Wymondham.

John Hurst, of sponsors and solicitors Birketts presented the trophy to Lord Melchett, who is also policy director of the Soil Association.

The judges were last year’s runner-up, Nigel Carey, of Great Witchingham, and Charles Sayer, 2008 winner, of Sparham, and Mr Hurst.

The runners-up were Chris Skinner of High Ash Farm, Caistor St. Edmund, Norwich, and Andrew Thornton, of Manor Farm Shropham.

Courtyard Farm was also the first organic holding to win the Norfolk competition, which aims to identify the best example of commercial operation and conservation practice.

The farm, which was once part of the Hunstanton estate until the 1940s, had typically 20 to 35-acre fields.

And the judges were impressed that no hedges have been removed, and indeed several added, since 1780.

The livestock enterprises started with a herd of single suckler Red Poll beef cattle, which are also grazed during the summer on the coast at the 90-acre Holme Marsh, which is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and was acquired in the 1970s.

After switching part of the farm to organic cropping in the 1990s, the whole farm was converted over three years between 1998 and 2000.

As a result, the farm has demonstrated that wildlife numbers and biodiversity can be increased with a profitable farm business, which provides employment for two people. The cattle herd was increased and an outdoor herd of pigs, currently 30 sows, was introduced.

The crop rotation was two years of red or white clover, spring wheat, spring barley and peas, and finally spring wheat, undersown with clover.

Another plank of the farm has been the support of local village shops, butcher and pub, which sells the farm’s fresh pork.

The judges commented that Peter Melchett had shown that profitable farming and environmental concern can be combined with great success.

By skilled use of rotations, with clover leys, good yields have been achieved from the light sandy soils. As a result, noted the judges, healthy, living soil has been enhanced.

A long-running education programme run with Docking primary school also impressed the judges. “It is evidently a very hands on and engaging experience offered by the team at Courtyard Farm,” said FWAG adviser Henry Walker.

He said that the public engagement of “really getting the message across” was a winning factor too as well as taking advice from other bodies including the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

“Chris Skinner had been so imaginative with the schemes, thinking outside the box,” said Charles Sayer.

“Andrew Thornton’s farm is a shining example of a commercial farm improved by the higher level stewardship,” said Mr Hurst.

For more details on the 2011 competition and FWAG activities, see www.fwag.org.uk


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