The difficulties faced by local farmers during the recent horrendous weather were highlighted by several speakers at the Isle of Man Bank-sponsored Farm Conservation Awards.
The presentation itself had been put back a month as the date of the original event had coincided with the worst snow for 50 years, leaving the agricultural community to cope with the aftermath.
Agriculture Minister Phil Gawne MHK told guests that it was an incredibly difficult time at the moment for everyone involved in the industry.
He added: ‘Trying to be optimistic is not an easy thing to do but today gives us a fantastic opportunity to start thinking again about the future and the positive things there are in terms of our agricultural community.
‘It is very easy to get lost in the difficulties agriculture has been facing, certainly within the last 12 months and particularly with the snow event, but there are some positives. It is a struggle perhaps to find them sometimes but today we have two excellent examples of the good things we have been doing in Manx agriculture.’
Welcoming guests to the Isle of Man Bank boardroom where the presentations took place, managing director Bill Shimmins said they felt the pain and resulting challenges for so many people in the farming, and other sectors, following the March weather.
Mr Shimmins said: ‘This is a 50-year event but it came on top of difficult times in terms of a poor summer, increasing costs, and various other challenges which you face.’
‘I want to assure everyone on that and also to say how important we feel the conservation awards and the work that farmers do, generally, are for the social fabric of the island.’
There was a poignant story behind this year’s conservation competition, organised by the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) in partnership with the Department of Agriculture. The bronze Chough trophy, presented by the department, was won by Guilcaugh Farm in Andreas.
The names engraved on the trophy are those of John and Jo Crellin who had carried out much conservation work at the farm but John died last August.
However, the trophy will provide a permanent memory, for family and friends, of the improvements he had initiated. Mrs Crellin is now supported in the farm business by daughter Rose.
One of the judges, previous winner Henry Teare, said the way the farm was managed provided enormous benefits for wildlife.
Over the years new ponds had been dug and hedges planted and the judges had particularly liked the planning of cover crops. These circled the farm linking together the wooded and wetland areas to provide wildlife corridors. Mr Teare said all this had been achieved on a very productive commercial farm.
Announcing the winners, FWAG chairman Paul Fletcher also referred to the contribution to conservation made by John and Jo Crellin. He added that it was appropriate the work carried out jointly by the Crellins had come to fruition and been recognised with this award.
Runners-up were Brian and Fiona Brumby from Ballakillingan Farms of Lezayre. Another of the judges, senior agricultural adviser Chris Kneale, explained that Brian and Fiona had recently converted what was a predominantly dairy farm by expanding their suckler herd and also diversifying into a camp site, opening up the farm to the public.
They had brought all that together while also providing a haven for wildlife. Reed beds had been constructed to deal with the dirty water system and this together with a hay meadow and hedges had resulted in a thriving wildlife scene in the area. Waterways and old railway corridors had also been utilised to help wildlife move through the area. Mr Kneale commented on the amazing diversity of animals and birds in evidence at Ballakillinghan, on the outskirts of Ramsey – including rooks, choughs, pheasants, hares and ducks – in such a relatively small area.