Farm advice can take many forms and this year’s 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards finalists are examples of the vast array of services offered to farming clients. From pig marketing, through wildlife and conservation, to dairy consultancy, all three contenders show total commitment to their sector, as Julian Gairdner reports
If ever you needed an example of someone who is passionate about a subject, then Peter Thompson of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is your man.
There can’t be many who can rival his expertise and experience in farmland biodiversity, and fewer still who can boast the level of influence he has had in creating a sea-change in attitude in the industry towards wildlife and conservation.
“I started as an agronomist for Chafers in Norfolk and subsequently with Wilmots at Didcot,” he says. “But I always felt I wanted to get into wildlife. As a child, field sports were very much part of my life – my parents described me as a mini Gerald Durrell.”
So in 1988 he answered an advertisement to join what was then the Game Conservancy Trust in a role to interpret a growing dataset “and do something with it”.
- Farmland and biodiversity manager for England at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
- Provides training and advice to farmers
- Supported by research output of some 60 scientists across the UK
Although the job stayed the same for a number of years, Peter says it was the introduction of arable options in entry-level and higher-level stewardship that created a big opportunity, helping many farmers to see wildlife and conservation as a key part of their business. “That’s exciting,” he says.
Standing in a field on a client’s farm, he stops to draw our attention to the song of a tree pipit. It’s then that you realise this is a man with an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of wildlife and its place in modern farming.
That understanding of making conservation work alongside profitable modern agriculture is what has earned him the respect of many a farmer in England and beyond.
So how does he influence his clients’ businesses effectively?
What the judges liked
- Passion for the subject
- Detailed knowledge and understanding of client needs
- Practical and very personable approach
“Much of the advice I give is to support farmers with their ELS or HLS applications, although I tend not to get involved in the actual submissions. I work closely with Conservation Grade – there are now some 80 growers – and carry out on-farm assessments for them.
“I also head up the Campaign for the Farmed Environment in Hampshire and am involved in the Biodiversity Action Plan.”
Initially, working for an organisation with charitable status, Peter’s advice was given for free. But over time he has developed an important fee income.
A significant part of the job is information-gathering. “I’m a member of just about everything,” he says. “I need to keep abreast of everything; it’s all changing so quickly.”
But he’s also supported by invaluable information from some 60 scientists working across the country, and his real skill is in the practical interpretation of those findings.
What his clients say
“Not only does he know his stuff, he gets it across to farmers in a way most others can’t,” says Nick Rowsell, farmer of 1,700ha in two blocks near Andover in Hampshire. “The reason there is effective on-farm conservation is because of what Peter has got across. He does it in a practical way working with you, not at you. I’m completely converted.”
He’s also clear that if the right wildlife outcomes are to be achieved, then more needs to be done to bring farmers together. One example is a successful application for Nature Improvement Area funding in the Marlborough Downs.
“Working with Natural England we need to be more proactive and go and knock on doors,” Peter says. “We need to identify what we want to do in a landscape and then go and talk to those farmers. It’s this sort of approach that might turn farmland birds around.”
He believes there’s plenty to do in the years ahead. “It’s an interesting time with CAP reform. There’s a huge amount of legislation coming. I’m trying to persuade government to fund advice for stewardship.” That, he argues, would make a huge difference to achieving the required outcomes.
And in every case he believes there’s opportunity. “There’s always something you can do for wildlife on any farm.”
A word from our sponsors
Alltech is incredibly proud to sponsor this category. Farm advisers are often underappreciated. These exceptional people are crucial elements of the food supply chain and we need champions who embrace challenges, change and innovation. The finalists epitomise this sentiment and I congratulate them.”
Ian Leach, Alltech
Find out more about the including details on how to books tables for the event’s glittering London awards bash