The Somerset Otter Award has crowned a winner for 2023. The award highlights the long term commitment to sustainable farming and wildlife conservation by farmers across the county. 

After very careful consideration, our judges Ben Thorne, Senior Farm Environment Adviser, John Gilbert, Somerset Farmer and Zara Blackmore, Assistant Farm Environment Adviser, scored Rachel and Joe Horler at Maundrils Farm as the winners for 2023. Huge congratulations to Rachel and Joe!

This year proved tricky to judge. A full write up of the finalists from Zara below...


Joe and Rachel Horler, Maundrils Farm - Winners

Joe and Rachel made the switch from Dairy to finishing beef cattle on their organic farm 4 years ago and haven’t looked back since. Rotational grazing of the herbal leys and permanent pasture results in good liveweight gains of the cattle, which are finished from forage, grazing, and only 3 tonnes of concentrated feed a year, before being sold to ABP and other organic farms.

Of course, when rearing cattle there is a need for electricity, and the payments from their stewardship and SFI options helps the farm boost it’s income which allows reinvestment in items such as solar panels (in addition to the necessary electric fencing and weigh scales to boost efficiency), that are on a variety of the farm buildings which feed into the farm and farmhouse electric. All lights in the cattle shed are LED and the diesel use is recorded, reviewed, and actioned. In addition to this, Joe and Rachel are awaiting a report regarding their carbon footprint.

There are field margins along the rhynes which are sown with legume only mixes (for pollinators), that are uncut and ungrazed in year 1. The Green Lane which links parts of the farm together is only cut as needed, which tends to be every 3 years, and this means there is a variety of plant species which flower and set seed. One particularly fascinating aspect of Joe and Rachel’s management was the dredging’s from the ditches are mixed with farmyard manure (from the cattle) and left to essentially ‘compost’, before being spread on the fields. This means there is virtually no waste coming from the farm.

Maundrils Farm have a big focus on education, and this year so far, they have had 18 farm visits from education groups, which includes schools, college’s and adult care groups. All activities are based on and around the farm, with educational but farming topics covered, such as growing food, earthworms, pollinators, and the importance of different habitats. Joe and Rachel have cleverly put up a blackboard on the footpath which runs through the farm, which is updated regularly with news such as key jobs being undertaken on the farm and any nature notes. Meetings and farm walks have been held for NFU members and village groups, and open farm Sundays happen every couple of years.

The array of habitats on the farm is impressive with 4 ponds having been restored and 300m of ditch for overwintering waders, wildfowl and water voles. Grassland cutting dates were moved back to July and hedges were allowed to grow and thicken out, and where there were gaps, these have been planted with new trees. The traditional old orchard to the back of the house has been restored by adding old cider apple varieties and other species such as plum and crab apple. Pest management is no longer undertaken on the farm, such as ratbait, and long-acting cattle wormers are no longer used which has benefitted the dung beetle population. Maundrils Farm has had bat, newt, water vole and reptile surveys undertaken, and Kestrel records for nesting box monitored by the Kestrel Highways project. As well as this array of habitat types, the judges were shown around a charming kitchen garden where the Horler’s were growing organic veg for themselves and various farm shops, alongside honey produced from the bees in the hives neighbouring the garden.

Future plans include continuing to develop the educational access strand of the business and looking at all opportunities to engage with the various environmental schemes. Joe and Rachel would like to simplify the cattle enterprise further to reduce the carbon footprint per kg of beef sold, whilst creating more habitat for the essential pollinators, increasing the number of hives and looking into silviculture. Ultimately, telling the story of what they are doing is of great importance as ‘grassland farms need grazing livestock - we produce food at the same time as looking after nature'.



Maundrils Farm



Chris Webber, Hindon Farm - Runner up

Hindon Farm, in contrast to the winner, is situated not below sea level, but on the top of Exmoor. This farm is Red Tractor Assured, Soil Associated accredited, in the process of a Pasture For Life certification, organic and currently in two Higher Level Stewardship Schemes ending this year, which will be replaced with another stewardship and SFI. Running 150-200 beef cattle and 250 ewes across 200ha of grassland and 400ha of coastal heath, this farm is extensively grazed, and rest periods across the farm are 90 days thanks to the mob grazing system, with views to increase this further. Future plans involve tree planting in various field and on steep valley slopes to intercept the flow of water off the land and prevent washing away of the farm track. The ultimate aim is continual environmental improvement for as long as there is opportunity. 

Chris is in the process of changing breeds (focusing more on the native Belted Galloway) to allow a more natural grazing system, and this in turn increases livestock performance. When cutting grass, Hindon Farm prefers to make hay as this reduces waste due to no, or limited black plastic, but if anything is wrapped, this is sent off to be recycled. The farmyard manure is all straw based which is stacked and then turned a few times to compost before being spread to increase the organic matter.

Parts of the farm have been fenced off for conservation areas whilst trying to increase diversity across the farm as a whole. The judges were incredibly impressed with the herbal ley mixes in certain fields which are deep rooting and nitrogen fixing and will finish the cattle and sheep well. The New Zealand mob grazing system must be one of the first on Exmoor, but is working incredibly well and the mix of grazing and trampling is having a beneficial effect on the grassland. 

Hindon Farm boasts several traditional farm buildings, and there are 2 long term lets on the farm, proving an income alongside the farming business. Both cottages have solar panels on the roofs which contribute towards the electricity use on the farm, with a hope to install more in the future and all water systems on the farm have been renewed to increase efficiency. Chris undertakes talks with NFU members and young farmers, and he has run information/knowledge sharing walks with Pasture for Life and has created a video for them on their YouTube channel.

Hindon Farm is currently looking at a FIPL grant for a comprehensive set of surveys to allow them to create a baseline to guide future planning and enhance their improvements.



Hindon Farm



Zanna Beswick, Rugbourne Farm - Highly Commended

This farm challenged the judges perception of a farming system with the lack of livestock and land that covered just over 4ha. However, parts of the land have been rewilded and thus has resulted in an array of wildlife including a breeding pair of Moorhens, Barn owns with young, Swallows, butterflies, bats, Roe deer and various songbirds. From looking at old maps Zanna noticed that a grubbed-up area of land used to be a woodland, which has now been replanted and become a thriving habitat and ecosystem, filled with lichen and fungi. Deadwood and fallen trees are only removed when necessary for safety and Hazel is coppiced and has been used to create a hedge boundary.

Whilst repairing the 17th century house, Zanna created a permanent roost for Kestrels in the gable end bulls eye window, where they now breed up to 3 chicks every year, and many of the traditional farm building have Owl and Kestrel boxes, where the judges saw 3 Kestrels coming and going. An original pond which had been overgrown was dug out and is now home to Mallard and Moorhens, and 75 native whips were planted last winter, 2 hedges were laid, and 14 apple trees were planted in addition to those already there. 

There is public access throughout the land via 2 footpaths which are kept clear, and stiles have been installed. A recycling water system has been installed and there are future plans to install a low carbon biomass boiler to replace the existing LPG.  Educationally, Rugbourne farm is visited by the local primary school, the WI, the Somersetshire Coal Canal Society, the Radstock Museum and the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute and the East Dorset Heritage Trust.

Zanna’s goal is ‘to help nature do its work, rather than get in its way, and we learn from it every day’, and future plans could involve solar panels on the south face of the Dutch Barn.



Rugbourne Farm


Huge congratulations to Rachel and Joe on this achievement. Rachel commented, ''We really enjoyed showing the judges around the farm. Entering the competition made us realise just how many different things we are doing here and what more we could do, to demonstrate the close relationship between farming and nature.''

A celebratory farm walk at Maundrils Farm will be organised for spring/early summer 2024. Keep your eye out for information and an invite to that in the new year.  

A huge thank you to our judges Ben Thorne, John Gilbert and Zara Blackmore for your expertise and time in visiting all the entrants this year. The FWAG SW competitions wouldn't be possible without your dedication and expertise. 

If you would like to enter one of our competitions in 2024, or nominate a neighbour, click here to find out more...