2011 FW Awards winner: Countryside Farmer

Chris Dowse

Sir Richard Sutton’s Settled Estates, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire

Winning ways

• Created a compelling commercial case for environmental measures
• Adapts advice to improve results on farm
• Contagious enthusiasm
• Shares learning with others

Chris Dowse would give many naturalists a run for their money when it comes to knowledge about plants and animals.

He has an incredible understanding of the wide variety of species to be found on Sir Richard Sutton’s Settled Estates in Lincolnshire. And it is down to him that so many of them have flourished over the past 20 years.

Despite fierce competition in the Countryside Farmer of the Year category, estate manager Chris impressed the judges with his enthusiasm and creativity when it comes to environmental management.

Like his fellow competitors, he has also demonstrated that commercial farming and looking after the countryside can go hand-in-hand.

Since arriving in 1989 he has made it his mission to look after and improve the farm’s biodiversity while at the same time delivering good-quality food.

“I find it very exciting that I have been given the opportunity on a large scale to integrate farming and the environment and demonstrate that it can work together,” he says. “I’ve always believed one piece of land can do everything if it is managed right.”

The farm’s strategy is to push for high yields from its arable crops while at the same time caring for the environment. In 2008, the whole of the farm was entered into either Organic Entry Level or Higher Level Stewardship, building on a previous Countryside Stewardship agreement.

The estate now includes 200 miles of field margins, 8.9ha (22 acres) of pollen and nectar mixes, 10.1ha (25 acres) of wild bird mix and a whole selection of bird, barn owl and bat boxes. About 242.8ha (600 acres) have also gone into arable reversion – doubling the acreage under grass – to protect some valuable archaeological sites.

Across the farm the impact of taking such steps is obvious. Since 2003, more than 150 nesting barn owls have been ringed on the estate, and lapwing, grey partridge, buzzard, tree-sparrow and skylark numbers have all increased.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, chicory is currently being trialled for fattening lambs, as it requires no fertiliser and is perennial. To avoid releasing soil carbon by ploughing and to cut the use of fuel, the estate has also moved towards no-till establishment across a quarter of the arable ground.

This innovative attitude characterises Chris’s whole approach. He doesn’t just follow the advice in the guidance books. He tries out what is recommended, monitors the results and then adapts management techniques to maximise the outcome. If something isn’t working he wants to know why and then seeks to fix it.

Such enthusiasm would be impressive in anyone, but when you factor in that at the end of October Chris will be stepping down as estate manager and retiring to Scotland, it is even more admirable. Although he will remain involved on more of a consultancy basis, it will inevitably be a huge wrench.

Farm facts

• 3,300ha in Lincolnshire Wolds
• 13 farm staff
• Predominantly arable
• 120 Lincoln Reds plus followers
• 1,200 breeding ewes

Countryside nwf logoSponsor’s View

Chris Dowse’s enthusiasm for environmental management is infectious. He has shown it is perfectly possible to achieve economies of scale while being sensitive to environmental concerns
David Warrington, Managing Director


2011 Farmers Weekly Awards