In early October, Barn Owl judges Hugh Warmington, a Somerset organic farmer with a traditional estate on the southern slopes of the Quantock Hills, and Gary Rumbold, FWAG SW C.E.O, set off with a task of visiting our finalists farms across the south west in two days, to crown the winner of the 2023 Barn Owl Competition Trophy.

The Barn Owl Award is FWAG SW’s flagship award to celebrate the best of farmland conservation and positive environmental practices across the counties of the south west. The regional entrants are put forward by winning their respective county competitions or by being nominated for being an outstanding advocate for wildlife and the environment, alongside maintaining their successful and thriving farming businesses.

Gary put together the following comprehensive write-up this year of the judges journey, highlighting the features and highlights of each fantastic entrant this year. Winner announced at the end...



Nick and Claire Bragg, Frogmary Green Farm, Somerset 

Nick and Claire have considerably changed their business model in recent years, moving from a farming system that produced root vegetable crops and poultry under contract to major suppliers to supermarkets, to one which predominantly, but not exclusively, produces fuel crops that are used in the on-site Anaerobic Digester (AD) plant. There has also been significant diversification into an up-market café / deli, a spa & beauty treatment area, a hair stylist, a wedding venue, dog training facilities and a flower shop, all powered and heated using on-site renewable energy sources. 

Growing areas have good margins demonstrating excellent wildlife habitat characteristics and there are a range of new trees planted along tracks and roads. The farm boasts large areas given over solely to wildlife and free public access, with two large and impressive ponds, which now have a healthy carp population. The judges were also very impressed with the education facilities built by the Bragg’s on site, which they have generously provided to the local school for use since the COVID pandemic.  As well as providing wildlife areas, the judges were shown around a delightful kitchen garden where the Bragg’s were growing flowers and fresh produce to be sold and used on site. 

Situated on fine, silty soils, Frogmary Green is susceptible to erosion and run-off, a problem that Nick has been keen to address through building Soil Organic Matter (SOM), reporting a reduction in run-off in recent years due to the measures he has employed, which the judges welcomed. 

Summary of Frogmary Green Farm 
Renewable energy is in use at Frogmary Green Farm at a scale way beyond that which most farm enterprises undertake. Similarly, the commitment the Braggs have shown to making Frogmary Green Farm a destination for local residents and travellers from further afield should be celebrated. The park and pond area provides an ornamental setting and a wildlife haven, with many pollinators and nectars sources obvious during the visit. Farmland bird records indicate that local populations are responding well to the Bragg’s hedgerow management and habitat creation and the judges were pleased to see good engagement with Somerset Wildlife Trust and others to continue this work.  



 Frogmary Green Farm



Geoff Williams, Tretharrup Farm, Cornwall

Geoff’s focus on reducing costs and having a system that worked with the farming partnership’s lifestyle was evident to the judges from the outset. Herbal leys were dominant in the paddock grazing system for the Angus herd. It was noticeable that a gentle, regenerative approach to farming was paying dividends both for the farm business and for wildlife. The judges saw an impressive amount of Skylarks and a large flock of Goldfinches that were clearly benefitting from this management approach. Cattle are now largely outwintered, in good condition and rely on a minimum amount of additional feed.   

Hedge management was impressive, as was the retention and restoration of Cornish hedge banks. The new hedge management regime has moved away from annual, same height cutting to one where hedges are allowed to mature and be laid, with some side trimming to maintain order at the boundaries. New hedges had been planted alongside newly created / surfaced farm tracks.  As above, the herbal leys / paddock regime, using electric fencing seemed to be working well for farmland birds. The farm has a mix of more traditional and modern farm buildings, all kept in good condition but which are less used now the Williams outwinter most of their livestock. The farm has sympathetically restored farm cottages as rentals, including one dating back to the early 17th century.  

Herbal leys were used to good effect to alleviate compaction, as was trampling of leys into the soil to improve soil organic matter. The one water course on the farm was well protected from livestock. Recycling is undertaken by a local contractor. Reduced farm inputs are likely to have reduced farm waste from containers etc. The farm and farm cottages are heated by biomass boilers or air source heat pumps. 

Summary of Tretharrup Farm
The judges were impressed with how the Williams had developed an Holistic Management approach, developing a vision for their farm outlining what they needed it to provide them and the lifestyle they wanted. Much thought had gone into the herbal ley paddock grazing system and how to efficiently move cattle. The extensive grazing regime and outwintering of cattle has clearly been beneficial to farmland bird numbers.  Careful consideration has been given to greatly reducing inputs and associated costs on the farm to increase margins. An excellent example of how a gentler approach to farming the land can allow space for nature alongside high quality, high welfare food production.  



Tretharrup Farm



Jim Mawle, Willey Farm, Devon  

Unusually for the area, Willey Farm is an arable enterprise but neighbouring family farms have livestock. Field margins are employed to reduce run off into water courses. The traditional buildings in the farmyard are extensive, largely unrestored and are home to an impressive number of Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and Sparrows, evidenced by the many nests built under the eaves. Jim ensures there is a permanent muddy puddle in the yard over the summer to allow them to have building material for their nests. There are many wild bird cover and forage habitats created on the farm under Jim’s Countryside Stewardship schemes as well as barn owl boxes strategically placed around the farm. Willey Farm has an extensive network of mature hedgerows, trees and woodlands that provide excellent wildlife corridors and shelter across the farm. Otters have been seen in the stretch of the Taw that runs through Jim’s land. A large, buffered, nature area has been created along one watercourse which Jim is experimenting with, allowing it to regenerate naturally with minimum intervention. Additionally a large farm pond habitat has been created.  

Jim is working hard to improve his soil organic matter and has undertaken baseline carbon foot printing of the farm enterprise. Working with Rothamsted and Richard Smith (EA), Jim is assisting with on-farm experiments assessing water quality and the impact of arable production. Rainwater harvesting is undertaken in the yard and is used for filling sprayer equipment. Jim has plans for the future to diversify by using the farm as a possible temporary event and camping venue.  

Summary of Willey Farm
Jim has a clear passion for the wildlife on his farm and has developed good habitats and forage areas across the farm for wildlife, with excellent connectivity through mature hedgerows, woodlands and well protected water courses. The traditional farm buildings are kept in such aways as to be a haven for migratory birds and Jim helps out by providing a ready supply of nesting material. Jim’s impressive professional qualifications demonstrate he has an excellent understanding of soil management and crop nutrition which he puts to good use across the farm. Furthermore, the engagement with local research teams (North Wyke, Rothamsted / EA) demonstrates a keenness to engage with scientific thinking to reduce the farm’s impact on the environment.  



Willey Farm



James Reed, Upwood Farm, Dorset  

Upwood Farm is a largely arable enterprise with a herd of Hereford Cattle. The cattle are spread across two different sites but have access to woodland pasture at both. James grows grass for seed as well as a mixture of rotational cereal crops.  

The yard contained a mix of modern and more traditional buildings. Through FiPL funding, Countryside Stewardship and SFI James has funded farmland bird and pollen and nectar mixes across the farm, which even in autumn were still showing healthy levels of invertebrate life, especially butterflies. There are healthy populations of Brown Hare on the farm and the judges saw Roe Deer in James’ woodlands, where there were also evidence / records of Red Deer and Muntjac, although high populations of Fallow deer are present and have to be sympathetically controlled. James has worked hard to manage existing woodland areas on the farm, some of which are fenced off for deer protection and other areas which are grazed as woodland pasture with his cattle. James has worked hard to bring the woodland into management, opening space in the canopy for the understory to flourish which reportedly has a good cover of bluebells in the spring. Additional planting has been undertaken as well as coppicing of more mature trees. One of the farm woodlands is a SSSI and adjoins an RSPB reserve. In one area of the farm there are records of Orchids and other rare flora, which is sympathetically grazed and managed to conserve this area.  

Regular soil testing is undertaken on the farm and there is a concerted effort to increase soil organic matter. FiPL funding used for further soil testing with the Cranborne Chase Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund Farmer Group, of which James is an active member. It was noted that James took care to drive on existing tramlines during the judging tour to reduce compaction. Cover crops are grown, funded by Wessex Water.

Summary of Upwood Farm
Upwood Farm is in excellent hands under James Reed’s careful management. The judges were impressed by the engagement with the Cranborne Chase Facilitation Fund group and how the farm accessed various grant streams to fund environmental work on the farm, including Wessex Water and FiPL. Herbal leys, pollen / nectar mixes were in good condition and well placed around the farm, which showed good habitat connectivity. The woodland management was of particular note, demonstrating a clear commitment to ongoing sympathetic management and protection from deer, with other areas benefitting from wood pasture grazing.  



Upwood Farm



Chris Rumming, Park Farm, Wiltshire 

D.W.Rumming and Sons is made up of 2 farms and 6 partners, each farm is approximately 200 acres. Waterhay Farm is now principally managed by Andy, Chris' brother, and Park Farm is managed by Chris. The enterprise is first and foremost beef sucklers with the breeding herd living at Waterhay and the youngstock go to Park Farm once weaned. Alongside with beef cattle, the farm hosts a flock of Oxford Down sheep, rear 600 turkeys for Christmas and have a monthly pop-up farm shop alongside their butchery, to sell direct to customers.

There is a mosaic of habitats present, but the majority of the farm is permanent pasture. The cattle are moved daily and grazing is all behind electric fence and the daily moves allows Chris complete control. Park Farm has three arable fields of herbal ley and 10 acres of this also has an experimental addition of wildflowers. 5-10% of each field is left un-grazed on each rotation to provide pollen and habitat, some of which runs alongside footpaths. It provides home to many hare and deer as well as Skylark. In addition to the grassland, Park Farm has 1.5km of brook running through the farm, which provides habitat to various life including water vole, otter, snipe and stickleback.

Hedgerows are abundant at Park Farm, trimmed only when necessary, and some hedge tops are left uncut in order to lay in the near future. A small woodland on the farm is informally coppiced, with the wood going to the biomass boiler that heats the house in winter. Chris makes sure to leave some heaped up brush wood and deadwood.

Chris runs several guided farm walks each year themed around wildlife and the environment. Some of these are ticketed and they raise money for charity. He also leads various talks with the W.I on farming and wildlife as well as being active on social media to share the work that they do with the wider public. Chris also travels off the farm on study trips and even spoke at the Oxford Real Farming Conference a couple years back. Additionally, there are plenty of future plans for Park Farm and Chris is constantly thinking of ways to make the farm more environmentally and financially economical, increasing biodiversity and developing the business further. 

Summary of Park Farm
The judges noted that Park Farm could be considered an ordinary lowland farm, bordered by Swindon, large scale maize cropping and the M4 on three sides, but with the benefit of Lydiard Park on another. What makes the farm remarkable is Chris’s care and attention to every detail on the farm. His ambition to manage the farm full time was only possible by his careful consideration to start the turkey enterprise which provides the financial base for him and his family to work from. He has added value to the farm business by providing onsite butchery and has reduced the environmental impact of food miles by establishing a regular pop-up shop on the farm, not only for their own produce but also for other local artisan food producers.  

All of this on its own would be exceptional, but Chris always has nature in mind with every decision he makes on the farm. He is constantly thinking about how he can create new habitats and provide, in his words, a textured landscape for nature to thrive in. As well as this Chris is mitigating against water pollution, not from his own farm, but from the motorway and industrial areas nearby. He has a well thought out waste management plan, with future plans for a high-end composting facility on site.  

The detailed records Chris keeps of the 102 bird species he has spotted on his farm, as well as other animals, is of an exceptionally high standard. In addition to this is Chris’ ambition to start recording flora on the farm too. 



Park Farm



All this leads us to announce that the winner of the 2023 Barn Owl Award is Chris Rumming at Park Farm! Chris ably demonstrated to the judges that sustainable food production can be delivered whilst providing space for nature and that a profitable farm business can be compatible with good quality farm wildlife conservation. Huge congratulations to Chris on this achievement. We are looking forward to hosting a winners farm walk at Park Farm next spring - watch this space for further details, we hope to see you there.

The standard of farms that we judge for the competition gets higher and higher every year. Each of the farms we visited this year were very different and all had a great story to tell, making the judging process extremely difficult. It was a privilege to visit the finalist’s farms and see the great care and attention that each of them has for the land they have stewardship over whilst managing successful businesses.

This year we have a rare occurrence of joint runners-up; Jim Mawle, Willey Farm and Geoff Williams at Tretharrup Farm, with James Reed at Upwood and Nick and Claire Bragg at Frogmary Green Farm coming in highly commended. There is so much more that could be said about all the farms, and the judges would like to thank each farmer for welcoming us and taking the time to show us around. Your hard work and environmental advocacy have not gone unnoticed, and we are so grateful to have such inspirational stewards for the land in the south west.

Lastly, a huge thank you to both Hugh and Gary who set aside two full and busy days to judge the farms. Without their skills and expertise this competition wouldn’t be possible.

FWAG SouthWest’s conservation competitions are a wonderful way for us to highlight the fantastic work farmers do across the south west. If you or someone you know would be interested in entering, click here for more information...