Audleystown Farmer Crowned Wildlife Friendly Farmer Of The Year

Audleystown farmer David Sandford has been crowned Northern Ireland’s Wildlife Friendly Farmer of the Year.

Mr Sandford beat off stiff competition at the glittering Farming Life and Danske Bank Awards held at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast last Thursday.

His arable farm near Strangford is a haven for nature, including Irish hares and skylarks. David is also well-known for his work on an ambitious project to reintroduce grey partridge. Wild grey partridges were declared extinct in Northern Ireland in 1992. However, the species was common on Mr Sandford’s father’s farm almost 40 years ago and he is determined to see them returned to our countryside where they belong.

[caption id="attachment_59699" align="aligncenter" width="540"]David Sandford pictured on his farm at Audleystown near Strangford. David Sandford pictured on his farm at Audleystown near Strangford.[/caption]

David is also working closely with RSPB Northern Ireland as part of the charity’s Yellowhammer Focus Area Project. East County Down is a stronghold for priority seed-eating birds which have declined in the UK and Ireland mainly due to a loss of habitat.

“I am delighted and honoured at receiving this accolade.  With the RSPB’s targeted advice and actions by farmers in the area, such as planting wild bird cover and leaving rough grass margins, we have seen a 79 per cent increase in the number of seed-eating yellowhammers which is very impressive.

“I can remember seeing a grey partidge pair just below the farm back in 1978. They became extinct in Northern Ireland about then. I have been working with people in County Offaly and we have breeding pairs and young that we will eventually release back into the wild and hope they breed into a new thriving population. This is a very exciting project.

[caption id="attachment_59697" align="alignright" width="390"]David Sandford, second right, accepts his trophy from Clive Mellon of the  RSPB NI Committee David Sandford, second right, accepts his trophy from Clive Mellon of the RSPB NI Committee[/caption]

“Our 22o acres farm has an abundance of wildlife and a measure of this is the thriving birds of prey we have such as sparrowhawks, kestrels, buzzards, barn owls and long eared owls, and even a merlin has been spotted. Several years ago we had a young osprey who was here for some time but it headed down in the Dundrum direction.

“Over the years our family have planted 10,000 native trees around the arable farm, providing a habitat for many small birds. We also leave the stubble in the fields for the birds and they can pick at the seeds over winter. We have a healthy population of yellowhammers, linnets and even kingfishers, pheasants and other species.

“We also have badgers, foxes, rabbits and hares and even pine martens which come over from Castle Ward. They have killed our cots of white doves on two occasions but by and large they fit in with the biodiversity of the farm.

“I just love working on the farm. Conservation and wildlife is a passion with me and I can really see the dividends after years of hard work. We do have a pheasant shoot on the farm but that is part of running the farm business and is compatible with making it sustainable so we can help the local birds and wildlife prosper.”

David added: “I believe as a farmer after years in the motor industry.  We should always be able to find time and space to assist the wildlife we have on our farms. A small field corner left fallow, or hedges being cut in rotation, can make a big difference.”

Commenting on David’s success, Claire Barnett from RSPB NI said: “It was a real pleasure to sponsor the Wildlife Friendly Farmer of the Year category and we were overwhelmed by the number and quality of the entries we received.

“The Sandford family are a shining example of how nature and a profitable farm business can go hand-in-hand. The work David is doing to reintroduce wild grey partridge, and his ongoing commitment to providing homes for other birds and wildlife on his farm, is fantastic.”