Farm where common sense rules

Chris Berry meets a farmer who is happy to have won a top award but doesn't like a fuss.

When it comes to conservation in the countryside everyone has their own level. Some have the funds and time to embrace it as a hobby, or even a separate enterprise. Others see it as part and parcel of their everyday lives.

Chris Woodall farms at Manor Farm in Ledsham a few miles north of Castleford. He has lived in the village all his life, loves his cricket, his family and his farm – not necessarily in that order – but doesn't believe that winning a conservation award means that he should be elevated above others.

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"It's nice to be put forward, but really all we are doing here is pretty much what we have always done, and what most farmers do. We've just tweaked a few things. I don't regard myself as anything special. We just try, through not too big an expense, to integrate conservation into what we do, sensibly.

"We've put in field margins and we have some nice species-rich grassland. We maintain the hedges. If you ride around the village you will see this is quite a hedge-rich landscape."

Chris's mother and father came to Warren House Farm, 100 yards from Manor Farm, in the 1960s before moving in the 1980s. Today's farm is tenanted from the Wheeler Foundation and is worked under a family partnership.

"The farm runs to 360 acres and we grow wheat, winter and spring barley, and spring beans, as well as having 35 acres of grassland. We also grow 60 acres of potatoes on further rented-in land from neighbours. All of our straw is baled in small bales and goes over the Pennines to Saddleworth and Lancashire."

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Two years ago Chris started growing Golden Promise for malting barley which goes in to Fawcett's (maltsters) at Castleford and is used to brew Timothy Taylor's Golden Best Bitter.

Although the farm has long since given up being a mixed farm enterprise, Chris provides bed and breakfast accommodation for a neighbour's cattle in winter and grazes them in summer. He also runs 400-500 free range turkeys for Christmas.

Chris talks of his attempts at conservation in a matter of fact manner. "We would have done some of what we do here anyway, but we wouldn't have done it all without being involved in things like the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which we joined seven years ago. I think being involved has helped."

While Chris isn't really one for publicity, as he puts it he's "not trying to sell anyone anything", he does enjoy providing conservation amenities and he is pleased with the increased numbers of birds seen on the farm.

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"The RSPB undertook a survey here a few years ago and they found everything from shelducks, lapwings, linnets, oystercatchers, kestrels, willow tits, bullfinches, sparrows, skylarks and starlings. We have also seen a definite improvement in grey partridge numbers."

Chris Woodall's view of life, and conservation, is one that is shared by many of his counterparts. Combining the business of farming with conserving the landscape is more a case of common sense than trying to make a name for yourself. He's just happy carrying on with what he does and providing a good life for his family – his wife Jaqui and their two young sons Harry and Edward.

When the farm's Countryside Stewardship Scheme finishes in three years Chris will be looking towards going into the Entry Level Scheme to carry on his work on conservation as well as running the farm as efficiently as possible – and playing for Ledsham Cricket Club of which he is president.

Chris Woodall is the winner of the West Riding section of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society's Conservation award for the Tye Trophy. The overall winner will be announced at the Great Yorkshire Show.

CW 19/6/10