Farmers Weekly Awards 2023: Environmental Champion of the Year

Emma and James Loder-Symonds of Nonington Farms, Kent, are the 2023 Environmental Champion of the Year winners.

For Kent farmers Emma and James, soil health and biodiversity are at the heart of their regenerative cropping system, which has increased bird and insect numbers and drastically reduced the farm’s carbon footprint.

The couple began their regenerative farming journey in 2018 and now their system includes extensive cover crops as part of a diversified rotation.

Cropping now includes milling wheat for a sustainable contract, winter beans, oilseed rape, spring wheat, winter and spring oats, and environmental stewardship.

See also: Farmers Weekly Awards: 2023 shortlist announced

They have integrated livestock in their arable system and are being paid by Southern Water to grow herbal leys with the aim to improve water quality.

Nonington is a Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) demonstration farm and countryside stewardship accounts for 20% of the area.

Over the past few years they have become carbon negative.

This has been in part due to diesel use falling by 35% since 2018  and a more efficient use of fertiliser has seen its use down by a half.

Emma and James aim to plant 1,000m of hedges and more than 400 trees a year.

Wider community

But it’s not just on their farm, Emma and James are involved in three cluster groups that they founded with Natural England, including the Barnham Downs East Kent group.

Not only do they have a close working relationship with their local Natural England adviser, they have volunteers who help record plants, insects and birds.

These records show substantial increases in bird numbers such as grey partridge and the discovery of new species on the farm like the Queen of Spain fritillary butterfly.

And if that isn’t enough to do, Emma’s background in teaching and passion to engage with the community has seen them host more than 1,500 visitors a year of all ages, helping to educate and promote the environmental benefits of their cropping system.

The future

While the couple have made huge strides in making the business more resilient, they have an ambitious target of cutting inputs by another 50% by further increasing soil health and mechanical weeding to cut herbicide use.

In addition, they plan to eliminate the need for artificial fertiliser and develop a sustainable way to grow milling wheat.

Five things that make Emma and James Loder-Symonds 2023’s Environmental Champion

  1. Involvement in three cluster groups, benefiting the wider community
  2. Drastically reduced the farm’s carbon footprint
  3. Seen increases in bird, insect and plant species
  4. Pushing the boundaries of regenerative practices, growing herbal leys to improve water quality and 20% of area as stewardship
  5. Influential ambassadors – are a Leaf farm and host up to 1,500 visitors ranging from farmers to schools

The Farmers Weekly 2023 Environmental Champion of the Year Award is sponsored by Woodland Trust

Woodland Trust

“Emma and James’s regenerative approach to farming puts the health of the land and wider ecosystem at the heart of their system.

“They share their knowledge and achievements as Leaf Demonstration farmers, showing that you can integrate environmental benefits alongside a productive system making them worthy winners of this award.” 

Darren Moorcroft, chief executive, Woodland Trust

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