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Reaping the rewards of environmental care.

Byline: By Anna Lognonne

Cross-compliance may be the buzzword in the corridors at Defra at the moment but the concept of farming for the benefit of the environment is nothing new to Teesdale farmers Maurice and Kath Toward.

They realised at the end of the 80s that environmental payments were going to come to the fore in agriculture and for the last 15 or so years they have been managing their farm in a way that will protect and enhance the local wildlife.

Herdship Farm near Harwood-in-Teesdale in the North Pennines is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and two thirds of the farm is within an Environmentally Sensitive Area.

The Towards have also entered into three Wildlife Enhancement Schemes, which has seen them forge close ties with English Nature, the RSPB and the Rural Development Service.

Over the years they have completely transformed the farm and they way they work, with only a quarter of their time now spent on agricultural work and the rest spent on environmental practices.

These include managing the rush growth to ensure a balance between forage production and the needs of nesting birds and fencing off roadside fields to create species-rich roadside margins.

Inputs at the farm are kept to a minimum to keep the site in good order; there is a heather-regeneration scheme, and ghyll woodland has been planted to provide additional bird habitat.

As a result of their efforts, Herdship Farm is now a haven for rare farmland birds such as lapwing, snipe, curlew, redshank, black grouse and yellow wagtail, and rare plants, including globe flower, melancholy thistle, cuckoo flower and the Teesdale gentian, flourish there.

The couple's efforts have also resulted in a number of environmental prizes, including the runners-up spot at the national final of the prestigious Silver Lapwing Awards a few years ago.

Maurice and his family have run the 574 acres of Herdship Farm since 1967, as a beef and sheep unit with 400 breeding ewes and 125 followers along with a small herd of Limousin cross cows.

However, the Towards are now looking to replace the 12 cows with a more traditional English breed, such as Hereford or Beef Shorthorn, as they feel this will best suit the environmental requirements of the farm.

When they first signed up for the environmental schemes, they did so because they realised that the landscape was the farm's biggest asset.

And on Saturdays visitors to the farm can see the thriving upland birds at a Spring Bird Safari, which has been organised by the RSPA. Also, from the end of May to the beginning of July, Mrs Toward organises regular farm walks.

Becky Cash, RSPB regional agricultural advisor, said: "Herdship Farm is a fantastic place for a whole range of birds and on this walk we hope to see many of the species which make the area so important for wildlife.

"With luck, walkers may be able to catch a glimpse of the rare black grouse, a bird that has its English breeding stronghold in the North Pennines."

The free event is part of the RSPB's Pastures for Plovers project and takes place on Saturday May 21, from 2pm. The guided walk will take around two hours and there will be refreshments available afterwards.

The number of people on the walk will be limited to 20 and booking is essential. To book a place or for further information contact Ms Cash on (01786) 870681.

She is also available to offer free advice and information to local farmers about management practices that will maintain and enhance the value of their land for wildlife.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 18, 2005
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