FWAG SouthWest’s Farming & Wildlife Awards recognise commercial farms that have successfully combined food production with sustainability, environmental protection and wildlife gains. The competitions are key items in delivering our charitable aims as they are a major opportunity to build strong relationships between farmers and the wider community, showcasing the wonderful conservation work many farmers carry out.

In Devon the Bronze Otter Trophy showcases the best the county has, with each years winner going on to represent the county in the regional Barn Owl Trophy.

We are delighted to announce the 2017 Bronze Otter winner is Hamish Bengough, of Dennings Down Farm, Axminster.

Dennings Down is a family-run organic livestock farm on edge of the Blackdown Hills AONB. The farm includes a County Wildlife Site of unimproved neutral and calcareous grasslands, a significant area of ancient semi-natural woodland and well maintained features such as hedgerows, ponds, traditional orchards, scrub, bracken and grass slopes.

Dennings Down Farm has been in the family since the early 1950s and has been managed by Hamish since the mid 1990’s. Previously a dairy farm, Hamish’s new vision has seen him successfully integrate a productive livestock herd with a rich tapestry of wildlife and environmental measures.

Hamish’s attention to detail is an inspiration. He has made use of some of the country’s leading grassland advisers and has been active in managing the soil to best economic and environmental advantage across the farm. The farm is also part of a University of Reading trial, looking at different herb mixes that provide benefits to the soil and wildlife as well as the stock.

This year’s open farm Sunday was a great success and Dennings Down have excellent plans to further develop the educational side of the farm. Hamish’s commitment of time and investment goes well beyond the realms of his Stewardship Scheme, and delivers substantial environmental and community benefits.

The view of the judges was unanimous in terms of which was the winning farm and why. ‘’The stand out choice was Dennings Down Farm. This is not only a working farm with a strong focus on grassland productivity, and environmental and wildlife enhancement, but is also a place where Hamish has put in passion and a vision to grow all aspects of the farm. Rich herb swards and rich wildlife are combined in a farming enterprise that will make sense across much of Devon. From a farming perspective, there is much to learn here, by all farmers.’’

The two other finalists:

Audrey Compton & John Whetman, Deer Park Farm, Newton Abbot
Deer Park Farm has 32 ha of species rich grassland spread across 26 fields, supporting outstanding grassland species like green winged orchids and wax cap fungi. Each field also boasts large medieval Devon hedge banks, set alongside a further 14 ha of fragments of ancient woodland. The entire farm is managed along organic principles.

John and Audrey greeted the judges with fresh cake, coffee and a fantastic summary of the wildlife and habitats present on Deer Park Farm. The judges found their passion for wildlife was infectious, something which they pass on to all those who visit, especially those who come under the extensive educational and community access programs Deer Park Farm run.

The judges consider Deer Park Farm to be exceptional. Commenting that ‘’Deer Park Farm has done all it can for wildlife and nature. It is probably one of the finest farms in this way and has done so on land that would not lend itself for anything else.’’ 

Jenni and Andrew Guy: Julians Farm, Holsworthy.
‘’Julian’s Farm is an exemplar for environmental education and Culm grassland restoration.’’

The Guys have moved the farm from being part arable to all grass, and have used a HLS agreement to enhance the management of the Culm grassland which is now in wonderful condition. In 2014 they also planted a new woodland area of 1200 trees; a mix of Birch, Oak, Alder, Thorn and Rowan, which has created habitat for bees, small mammals and Owls. The farm has PV panels providing the electricity and rainwater harvesting facilities which supply several buildings during the winter.

However, what stands out most on Julians Farm is the focus and passion for educational access, and the deep appreciation they have for how beneficial time spent in the nature can be for young people. The Guys already have regular weekly school visits through their position as a Care Farm, and work closely with local schools and Devon Wildlife Trust. This is a key area for them and they have exciting plans to take it further.

The judges commented that ‘’Julians is sensibly maximising the benefits that can be derived from traditional farm management with environmental delivery and education and again, is an excellent example of how commercial farming can deliver numerous positive outcomes.’’

We would like to thank all our entries, especially the three finalists for taking the time to show our judges around, and thank our judges; Tom Stratton, Paul Cottington and Martin Howard for their time and expertise.