July 24 2014 Latest news:
Friday, June 6, 2014
An Essex farmer said he felt “overjoyed, but humbled” after scooping a top conservation accolade yesterday.
Ashley Cooper was presented with the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) Silver Lapwing award by the Duke of Westminster at a ceremony held on the Raveningham Estate near Beccles.
Mr Cooper, of HP Coopers Farms, of Hill Farm, Gestingthorpe, near Sudbury, was one of four finalists from across England and Wales battling it out for top place in what judges acknowledged was a particularly tough and closely-fought contest.
“Listening to the accounts of the other farmers, I felt that each of them had done just as much as I had. Clearly the other entrants had done extraordinary things so I felt overjoyed, but humbled,” he said.
In a moving acceptance speech, he paid tribute to his FWAG adviser, Rebecca Inman, for the support she had given to him.
“The FWAG advisers over the years have helped give my farm its heart, its soul and its beauty,” he said.
“I would like to say how overwhelmingly thrilled I am that FWAG is still continuing.”
It was 39 years to the day that he went as a very young man to the first ever FWAG event in Essex, he told the audience. He paid tribute to everyone who had helped him on the farm over the past 40 years and “who cherishes and loves it as much as I do”.
The Silver Lapwing Award event, now in its 37th year, celebrates the efforts of farmers and landowners who demonstrate outstanding commitment to conservation and environmental management within commercially-successful farming enterprises.
Mr Cooper’s farm, based in the Belchamp Brook valley, was selected in recognition of its extensive efforts to protect and enhance the countryside.
As well as growing winter wheat, barley, beans and oilseed rape on his 280ha farm, Mr Cooper is keen on practical conservation, conserving historical artefacts found on the farm, and encouraging schoolchildren to see how food is grown.
Judge Charles Beaumont acknowledged the collapse of the national FWAG body two years ago had been a “bruising process”, but added that it had now been resurrected and the award was still going strong. “This is still the competition that all seriously conservation-minded farmers want to win,” he said.
The finalists were “judged strictly”, he said, and were all “very special farmers and conservationists indeed”.
He singled out for praise the “wonderful museum” created on Mr Cooper’s farm to hold some of the finds discovered from the remains of a Roman villa on the site.
“All in all we loved being there and it was a wonderful entry,” he said. Everything had been “done with a very big dose of love and a strong eye for detail”. “It was a cracking entry,” he said. It was one of two entries he classed as “absolutely outstanding” in the competition.
Glasnant Morgan, of Brecon, came a close second in the contest, and the runner-ups were Dougal Hosford, of Blandford, Dorset, and John Miller, of Nottinghamshire.