West Norfolk farmer pipped at post for national conservation prize

West Norfolk farmer Ed Cross was runner-up in the latest national farm conservation award.

The tenant farmer on the Sandringham estate was one of the four finalists in the final of the Silver Lapwing Award, presented at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust's farm at Loddington, Leicestershire.

Mr Cross, who welcomes more than 2,000 visitors each year to Abbey Farm, Flitcham, was praised for his outstanding contribution to building better understanding of food, farming and wildlife. He has provided a bird hide by scrapes and pools, which is another popular feature for visitors as more than 180 species have been recorded on the farm.

As winner of the 2011 Ian MacNicol Award of the Norfolk farm conservation award, he qualified as one of a dozen finalists in the Silver Lapwing Award and was selected as one of the top four farms. His father, Richard, has been a tenant on the estate for about 55 years.

His projects, which so impressed the Norfolk panel, included habitat restoration and manipulation of water levels to provide habitat for wintering waders and wildfowl along Babingley river valley.

Mr Cross, who has devised his own mix of wildbird seed mixes, which has been sown by a near neighbour, James Young, who was a finalist in this year's Ian MacNicol Award.

Defra's former farming minister, Sir Jim Paice presented the award to Graham Dixon, of Morpeth, Norhumberland and a certificate to the runner-up, also launched a new national farming and wildlife advisory group association at the trust's Allerton project farm.

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For 42 years, FWAG was unrivalled for being a dedicated provider of environmental and conservation advice to farmers. Its loss in 2011, when the organisation entered into administration, was a huge blow and regarded as a detrimental step for those wishing to integrate environmental measures while keeping their farms profitable.

The new association evolved as a result of discussions between local independent groups formed by ex-FWAG staff and volunteers. Supported by the GWCT and LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), the association will offer advice to farmers across 65pc of the country's land area.

Sir Jim, who is MP for south-east Cambridgeshire, was invited formally to launch the association.

Jim Egan, who is the interim chairman, said: 'It's great to see a new FWAG Association re-emerging and going back to its roots on a local level. There is a real need for this type of organisation... It has an important role to play in helping farmers with truly independent, trusted environmental advice.

'The process has been helped greatly by GWCT who have been fantastically generous with their staff time and advice.'

Teresa Dent, chief executive of the GWCT said: 'FWAG has always played a key role in advising farmers and the GWCT look forward to continuing to support this new initiative as well as providing science-based environmental training for all FWAG advisers.'

The launch of the FWAG Association will also incorporate the award ceremony for the FWAG Silver Lapwing Awards for 2012, sponsored by Waitrose. The awards are aimed at farmers and landowners who demonstrate outstanding commitment to conservation and environmental management integrated into a commercially successful farming enterprise.

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain's game and wildlife for the past 70 years.