Farm Of The Week: Farmer who walks on the wild side

Gordon Howarth
Gordon Howarth
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Anyone wishing to cast aspersions on the contribution that British farmers make to ecology would do well to pay a visit to Holme Lodge Farm.

Here, close to the village of Holme on Spalding Moor, Gordon Hawcroft and his family run a 150-acre arable farm.

However, a closer inspection of the holding reveals it is home to far more than the usual combinable crops that the East Riding of Yorkshire is famed for.

Otters, deer, owls, badgers, brown hare, partridge, pheasant, corn buntings, kestrel, sparrowhawks and a host of other wildlife make their home on this farm – all thanks to the conservation work that Mr Hawcroft has carried out on the farm.

The work has been of sufficient quality that the farm has been nominated for the prestigious Tye Trophy at this week’s Great Yorkshire Show.

Set up to recognise excellence in farming practice the trophy is presented by organisers the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and aims to reward those who combine good commercial farming with sound environmental practice.

Another important element is that of being an ambassador for the industry to encourage greater understanding of the important role that farmers play in producing our food. The climax of the competition comes at England’s premier agricultural show when the overall champion is announced.

Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, said: “As a society our remit is to encourage and recognise good farming practice, and each year it’s very pleasing to see that the standard remains as high, if not higher than ever.

“I know the judges have once again had a difficult task, and we look forward to announcing the overall winner at the Great Yorkshire Show.”

It is not the first time the farm has achieved success for its environmental work. Last year it was highly commended in the Nature of Farming Award run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Despite his obvious pride, Mr Hawcroft said he still has no idea who was responsible for nominating him

“I am very flattered – it is a wonderful thing to have been nominated for.”

Mr Hawcroft’s involvement with the ecological side of things began in 2006 when he first entered an environmental scheme.

It was also around this time that he decided to give up the intensive pig herd he had been running for 30 years, deciding to concentrate on the arable crops.

“I used to keep pigs but it got to the stage where we were losing money. Even the economies of scale did not make any difference, the more pigs you kept the more of a loss you were making.”

Mr Hawcroft embraced the new changes. However, as with all things on a modern farm, there was a lot of work to do be done to bring in the various environmental schemes.

“There was a lot of damage caused by the removal of hedgerow,” he said.

“What we have been aiming for is a series of inter-connected habitat so they can move across the fields down the hedgerows etc. We closed up the spaces. In all we must have planted 3km of hedges – a lot of plants!

“The Market Weighton canal is fantastic for wildlife.

“Obviously, the wildlife cannot cross the land so we have sought to create a series of corridors to open up the countryside.

“So we set about replacing the hedgerow to create these corridors, as well as creating buffer zones and wild bird cover.”

The hedgerows were all planted in late 2007, with much work being done to close the gaps in existing hedgerows.

Little did he know it at the time but by beginning his involvement for environmental schemes he would begin a process which would alter his life.

“A lot of things have sprung from the Higher Level Stewardship. We have some absolutely fantastic countryside around here and we need to protect it.

“We want to take that fantastic countryside and bring it into the farm itself.”

Last month the public were also able to come on to the farm itself when the Hawcrofts invited people through the gates for Open Farm Sunday.

“The Open Farm Sunday event is always a great success. We have now done it four times. We got asked to do the farm walks again, another thing which has sprung off from being involved in HLS.”

The idea of engaging more with the public is one that really excites Mr Hawcroft. He sees having a more involved link between rural and urban areas as being key to any future the industry is to have.

He said: “There are 25 farms occupying 90 per cent of the land – we’re keeping villagers off the land.

“I do not blame anyone for it, but we need to relax a little.

“A lot of people in the village feel emotionally involved and enjoy to walk on the land, rather than just the paths they are confined too.

“We realised that the village had become disconnected from what we do which is sad.

“This is important that they use the village and the area that surrounds the parish. There is a great history here.

“Access is a big issue for local people.

“The village is a friend of the farm and has been very supportive.”

One of his main aims now is to try and make the most of the spectacular East Yorkshire countryside and heritage to help bring a sustainable future to the area.

He sees rural tourism as being the key to this, talking of his desire to see more people choose to visit the area to bolster the economy.

Among his aspirations are to help link the area up with the National Cycle Network, using the towpaths of the local Market Weighton canal.

“Tourism is worth three times more than agriculture. It would bring so much employment in.

“We have a wonderful asset here, we can be involved in rural tourism as well as look after the countryside.

“We have such great attractions here, it is tranquil.”

Having already been named the East Riding of Yorkshire regional winner of the Tye Trophy, Mr Hawcroft will now go up against fellow regional winners S and C Coggrave of Tockwith, York, and WB & S Shaw of Hooton Roberts, Rotherham

The ceremony takes place at the Great Yorkshire Show on Wednesday, July 11 when the President of the Society, Raymond Twiddle will present the awards.