15 / December / 2015
John Whetman and Audrey Compton, farmers from Chudleigh, near Newton Abbot, have won the England 2015 Meadow and Grasslands Award for their work at Deer Park Farm, a species rich county wildlife site.
The awards were set up by the Save our Magnificent Meadows partnership to recognise farmers and landowners in the UK who are protecting precious grassland and meadows. Meadows and grasslands rich in wild flowers such as oxeye daisies, buttercups and myriad orchids, have declined disastrously since the 1930’s - we have lost 97% (nearly 7.5 million acres). More are being lost each year through neglect, conversion to other land use or development.
Deerpark Farm has nearly 40 acres of ancient grassland and hay meadows and the farm supports over 350 species of wild flowers, including thousands of green-winged orchids. The grassland is also home to many brilliantly coloured waxcap fungi and masses of other wildlife.
"We love our farm and its wildlife" say John and Audrey, "and we particularly love sharing it with others, The fields are alive with butterflies, moths , grasshoppers, crickets and many other invertebrates. We feel a strong sense of responsibility for it now and for the future. When we came here, 9 of our 24 fields had lost some of their diversity. After 15 years of careful grazing with our sheep and cattle, we have found that indicator species like green winged orchids and wax cap fungi have increased and spread to adjacent fields - those poorer fields are recovering."
As well as having had a career in horticulture, John has for many years been involved with Devon Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) the Devon Hedge Group and is a Trustee of Devon Wildlife Trust. Audrey was a dairy farmer for 25 years and then retrained and worked as a Countryside Ranger for 15 years. With local groups, school children and their grandchildren frequently on the farm, they simply can't imagine retiring!
Back in the summer, a search was launched to find the nations' most successful 'Meadow Makers' across Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The Save Our Magnificent Meadows partnership were looking for landowners, smallholders and farmers who have successfully juggled the challenges of running farm businesses, while conserving wildflowers meadows and grasslands.
Says project manager Claire Parton, "These people are the unsung heroes of the conservation world, setting a fantastic example of how to protect our meadow heritage and inspiring others to follow suit..."
Save Our Magnificent Meadows is the UK’s largest partnership project transforming the fortunes of vanishing wildflower meadows, grasslands and wildlife. Led by Plantlife, the partnership is made up of 11 organisations and has been supported by a £2.16 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.