Farmers, advisors and local conservationists braved extreme weather conditions to learn about the farming practices of the 2019 Cornwall Otter Trophy winner. The trophy is awarded by FWAG SouthWest annually to showcase the long term commitment to wildlife conservation and sustainability shown by many farmers across the county. The winner, David Oates, hosted a farm walk and series of talks on the 14th January that inspired and fascinated a group of nearly 50 guests.

The event was based at Tregoon Farm in Gweek, where David took on land from his uncle four years ago. With the support of a Mid Tier agreement, he has converted it to organic and introduced a mixed rotation which is improving soil health, capturing carbon in the soil and benefitting local wildlife populations, whilst allowing David to utilise forage efficiently and sell high quality produce.


Group gather for discussion / the Cornwall Otter Trophy


David and his family manage the family business at Rosuick Farm, where they are looking to diversify into care farming, and have also worked hard to improve the condition of some of the Lizard’s heathland parcels which support populations of many rare plants and animals. He also looks to maximise the benefit of his farming for people in the local community.

The competition judges commended David for his approach to planning, diversifying and growing the family business, and his choice of farming system that suits the suitability of the land under his control, and the importance of the wildlife habitats that are associated with it.  Increasingly, the Oates are addressing use of resources and waste generation, through reducing and recycling plastic, lowering fuel consumption, and installing renewable energy systems to provide more power.

David led a farm walk where we discussed a wide range of topics from good practice in over-wintering on fodder turnip, managing winter bird food crops, using Papa pumps for water supply, hedgerow management, the pros and cons of a Stewardship agreement. The dire weather conditions did not dampen spirits, and actually provided the perfect opportunity to see how rainwater permeates deep through the farm’s healthy soils, thereby reducing flooding and improving water quality in the landscape. The conditions also allowed guests to experience how wildlife benefits from the presence of the sheltered green lanes, where bullfinches and other wildlife thrives.


Discussions and views on the walk


James Lyall, Cornwall Committee Chairman and Cornwall Otter Judge, commented that “The Otter Trophy walk went very well and was very well attended by over forty people despite the strong winds and of course rain. We all came away feeling very inspired and I was left with the image of seeing clouds of linnets flying around David’s field of wild bird seed mix. I hope that he will now go a long way in the National Competition. He certainly deserves too as he ticks so many boxes and is a very good young ambassador for the future of farming”.

As well as a tour of the farm, attendees were treated to a series of talks. Becky Hughes of FWAG SouthWest highlighted the benefits of a ‘regenerative’ farming approach, and also gave an insight into the future of farming in Cornwall against the backdrop of Brexit, the reduction of Basic Payment, future agri-environment and the increasing focus on the delivery of ‘Public Goods’.

Hannah Gibbons from ‘Back from the Brink’ gave a captivating overview of the wild arable plants found in Cornwall’s cultivated fields. She highlighted the importance of our county to this group of species, many of which are internationally threatened, and often represent the rarest wildlife on our farms. On the walk we came across Cornflowers growing in an under-sown grass ley. This is now one of our rarest wild plants, but the new farming system at Tregoon has allowed it to bloom after remaining dormant underground in the seedbank for many years.

Linnets on the walk


Lawrie Sampson of FWAG Southwest spoke about farmland birds, highlighting opportunities to support birds of conservation concern that rely on farmland habitats. His suggestions we reinforced on the farm walk when a flock of 200 linnets were spotted as they battled with the gale-force winds whipping through the bird seed plots.

The weather-battered guessed feasted on locally produced pasties on returning from the walk, and David was presented with the Otter Trophy, which has stood the test of time, being awarded since 1984. Many thanks and huge congratulations to the Oates.

James Lyall, Cornwall Committee Chairman and Cornwall Otter Judge, presenting the Cornwall Otter Award to David Oates

The event would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship from Savills. Gareth Rowe, from Savills Truro office summed up the event by saying “Savills are very pleased to support FWAG and this open day kindly hosted by David Oates.  It is important for all of us to see at first hand a commercial management regime that delivers landscape and wildlife benefits together with improving soil health, structure and condition.  I am sure that like me, everyone took away something from the presentations and farm walk to use at home – knowledge sharing at its best”. A huge thank you to Savills and to Gareth Rowe for their support.


We are currently seeking entries for the Cornwall Otter Award for 2020! Are you a farmer who carefully considers methods of conservation and sustainability when farming your land? Do you have a neighbour who fits the criteria? We are asking for your help to find our entries for 2020!

The winner of the Cornwall Otter Award has the opportunity to host a farm walk, and they also go on to represent their county in the regional Barn Owl Trophy. Take a look at our webpage for more information and how to enter. The competitions are only open for a limited time, so get your nominations in now.