In mid-September of this year, Barn Owl judges Hugh Warmington, a Somerset organic farmer with a traditional estate on the southern slopes of the Quantock Hills, Ruth Kimber, a born and bred Somerset dairy farmer and ex-Chairman of Somerset NFU, alongside Ellen James, FWAG SW Communications Manager, set off with a task of visiting four farms across the south west in two days. The aim of this trip: to identify which of these farms will be the winner of the 2022 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 successful and thriving farming businesses. With a recent covid-related break from the normal running of FWAG SW competitions, the judges were excited to get back out onto some inspirational farms.

The first stop was Home Farm, Curry Rivel, Somerset, owned and farmed by brothers Henry and Richard Lang, together with Richard’s son Harry. The farm was awarded the Somerset Otter Trophy in 2019, and so the Langs were entered into the regional judging for this year. On arrival, the judges were handed an impressive booklet outlining details of Home Farm including background information, management of both farm business and environmental aspects, energy capture, waste management, community engagement, plans for the future and more. This laid the groundwork for the judges, who were then impressed to see lots of this in action. Home Farm is made up of around 70% arable land, primarily for the production of wheat, as well as break crops such as linseed, oilseed rape, beans and legume fallow. The remainder of the farm is grassland, mixed scrub, woodland, traditional orchards with ewe lambs, as well as large wildflower margins left untouched and temporary herbal leys. Ten ponds allow great crested newts to thrive, as well as habitat for brown hairstreak, hares, kestrels, linnets, barn owls and a solitary grey partridge (with hopes that more will return soon). Community engagement is incredibly important to the Langs, with a year-on-year commitment inviting school children to learn and engage with farming first-hand through the Kingfisher Award Scheme. Historic buildings have been impeccably restored. The soils are sampled every 3-4 years, and plans for the future involve a large wetland area. Diversification is notable in the form of a small business park hosting local producers and an underground shooting range. Home Farm was an impressive first stop on our judging tour.



Home Farm, Somerset


Our afternoon visit the same day was Rookery Farm, Sherborne, Dorset, farmed by Sam Vincent and his father. Sam greeted us, alongside Bert the dog, welcoming us into his Land Rover to begin our tour. Rookery Farm was nominated for the Barn Owl Award in 2019/20. Rookery Farm is a permanent pasture organic dairy farm with 100 dairy and 145 beef. The farm is tenanted, so the development that the family have made is particularly commendable. The farm's landscape is made up of 130ha grassland, and a small amount of woodland. Sam and his father are committed to finding a more sustainable approach to farming, aiming to maximise the benefit of natural systems to produce food. Mob grazing is applied, moving the cattle regularly on longer grass to increase species diversity. Grazing rotations are between 40-100 days depending on time of year. The farm's hedgerows and ancient trees are impressive, as well as Sam’s in-field tree planting for future livestock shade and carbon and wildlife benefits. Notable wildlife include grebe, reed bunting, stone chat, kestrels. Natural Flood Management (NFM) measures are in place and three ponds have been installed with great crested newts and a grass snake spotted regularly. Soil testing is undertaken often, tyres recycled and solar panels installed. Three farm walks took place in 2021 and local young farmers' club members have been invited to learn from the farm on-site. Our visit to Rookery was a delightful way to end the first day of judging.



Rookery Farm, Dorset


After an evening stopover near Falmouth, we travelled to Rosuick Farm, Helston, Cornwall to meet Dave Oates and his father. Rosuick Farm was put forward for the Barn Owl Award as winners of the Cornwall Otter Award in 2019. We were welcomed into the Camel Barn, aptly named as a well-equipped meeting/wedding venue with three camels residing in the barn! Dave presented a comprehensive overview of Rosuick; a beef and sheep farm with 250 owned acres plus rented land from Natural England, National Trust and private landlords, as well as common land and a contract farming agreement bringing the total land managed to over 1,000 acres, with all sites located across the Lizard Peninsula, much of which is SSSI. Dave’s presentation allowed us to get a real feel for the farm, to see practices, habitats and the land that we weren’t able to visit in person. There were so many things the judges were impressed by, not least the sustainable farming practices: organic and very low input, done with a focus on environmental gain, now labelled as regenerative. Three Higher Tier and one Mid Tier Countryside Stewardship agreements support these methods. A variety of wildlife can be seen on the farm, barn owls nesting, linnets and bullfinches to name a few. New and old ponds are in place throughout the farm, including the largest natural body of water on the Lizard. The community engagement and school educational outreach is vast and regular, with extensive signage around the farm and booklets created for education use. Accessibility has been thoroughly considered, so there are no boundaries for educational visits. The farm is engaged with ELMs tests and trails and Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL), and works directly with Exeter University for further research. The diversification is impressive, with weddings, holiday lets, businesses rentals, plus bird hides and photography courses. Even though the rain didn’t subside on our visit, the judges left Rosuick Farm feeling inspired. We left Dave and family to set up for a wedding the following day.



Rosuick Farm, Cornwall


Our final stop was Blannicombe Farm, Honiton, Devon, Mark Evan’s dairy farm with a 235 herd of pedigree Ayrshires. Traffic on the A30 meant the judges arrived rather late, and bang on milking time. A huge thank you to Mark for being so accommodating and kind when we arrived at probably the most inconvenient time of the day! After two busy days, the judges were so pleased to arrive at such an impressive farm. Blannicombe Farm was presented with the Devon Bronze Otter Award in 2019, therefore put forward to the Barn Owl Award this year. The management of the environmental assets of the holding is a significant part of the farm business and the Ayrshires are key to the successful management of some admittedly difficult grassland sites. Mark carefully manages the land in a specific and considered way, which consists of semi-natural grasslands including rush pasture, traditional hay meadows and waxcap grasslands, with regenerative areas. Parts are supported by an HLS agreement and the hay meadows are cut late to encourage flowering species and offering barn owls ideal hunting conditions. Hedges and hedge-laying are carefully considered (and skills taught to staff), which provide habitat for dormice; there are plenty of mature oak trees and standing deadwood, which provide natural shelter for cows. The Gissage runs through the valley, a tributary of the River Otter. The farm has engaged with the local Catchment Sensitive Farming officer to look at yard works to improve water quality in the catchment. Fish stocks are maintained and fish counting is undertaken. The farm additionally boasts several ponds. Blannicombe is tenanted, so the long-term efforts Mark continues to make are particularly honourable. A fantastic final stop off, and the judges made a memory for life: pushing the Land Rover down a hill to kickstart the engine!



Blannicombe Farm, Devon


You will have understood from reading this how difficult the judging and scoring process was this year, but we are thrilled to announce that the winner of the Barn Owl Award for 2022 is Home Farm, Curry Rivel, Somerset. Huge congratulations to Henry, Richard and Harry Lang. A farm walk and award presentation event will be hosted at Home Farm next spring. We hope you can join us there to celebrate.

Our runner up this year was Rosuick Farm, Helston, Cornwall, with both Rookery Farm, Sherborne, Dorset and Blandicombe Farm, Honiton, Devon both 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 Ruth who volunteered two full and busy days of their time to judge the farms. Without their skills and expertise this competition wouldn’t be possible and we are so grateful for your continued support.

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 and details on how to enter...