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    Wildlife on the up at Hall Hill
16/11/05

A green-conscious farmer is combining business success with environmental improvements to boost local wildlife with help from Defra's agri-environment schemes.

David Gibson, whose family have worked Hall Hill Farm, at Lanchester, near Durham for more than 70 years, has always been a firm believer in his role as custodian of the land, looking after it for future generations.

The family has developed the farm to adapt to changing markets over the years and Hall Hill is now home to three separate, but complementary businesses - a traditional mixed farm with a herd of sheep and cereal crops, a popular tourist and education facility with classrooms, nature trails, tea room and shop and a newly launched equestrian centre offering livery, dressage standard indoor arena and hacking trails for riders.

But the local environment and the wildlife habitats it offers have not been neglected and in 2003, Mr Gibson signed a Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement to help support a range of improvements, which are already reaping rewards.

Mr Gibson said:

"Since the agreement started we've planted around 25 hectares of buffer strips, six metre field margins as well as areas of over winter stubbles to provide cover and food for birds and other wildlife, particularly species such as lapwing, grey partridge and tree sparrows, which were already recorded on our land.

"The farm already had quite a varied landscape, including woodland and upland meadows, which attracted a wide range of species and we've been working hard to build on that. And we've already noticed a big difference with an increase in numbers of birds, butterflies and wildlife.

"Once upon a time we'd see perhaps one or two hares a month, but the other day I saw six in the same field within a few minutes.

"We've also adopted more environmentally-friendly farming methods, with restricted grazing and use of fertiliser in many fields, and have carried out work to plant new hedges and restore dry stone walls around the farm."

While the work carried out under the agreement is already helping local wildlife it is also providing an enhanced environment for visitors to the 'open farm' and the new equestrian centre.

Mr Gibson explained:

"My father started the farm visits about 25 years ago, when he welcomed the public in to see the lambs. This part of the business is now run by my sister Ann Darlington and has grown steadily over the years - last year we had more than 75,000 visitors during the season March to October.

"The equestrian centre is a new venture for us and offers top class livery accommodation, an indoor arena for dressage and show jumping as well as the hacking trails around the farm.

"All the work we're doing through Stewardship is enhancing the environment around the farm, attracting more wildlife and making it a more pleasant place for our many visitors."

Amanda Hunter, an adviser with the Rural Development Service North East, which delivers Defra's agri-environment schemes, said:

"Many farmers across the region have signed up to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) to take positive action to restore and enhance their local environment and wildlife habitats.

"CSS has now closed to new agreements, but we're continuing to work with farmers and other landowners offering practical help and support through our new Environmental Stewardship scheme.

"Environmental Stewardship has three elements: Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) to support basic good practice in land management; Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) for those who manage all or part of their land organically and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) which aims to deliver significant environmental benefits in high priority situations and areas.

"More than 337 farmers, landowners and managers in the North East Region have already signed new ES agreements and we're keen to encourage more to join us in our efforts to preserve and enhance our countryside."

link Rural Funding To Become More Flexible, Says Minister
link Defra Helps Northumberland Farmer Plant Seed For New "Green" Business
link 'The Big Three' Can Help Farmland Birds

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DEFRA
Department for Environment
Food and Rural Affairs