Martin Hamilton Wins Top Farmland Wildlife Award

ENDANGERED yellowhammer, tree sparrow, Irish hare and field mice are not what you would usually associate with farming on a big scale, but that is precisely what the RSPB found on Martin Hamilton farms, producers of the well-known brand Mash Direct. And so impressed were they that they are the Northern Ireland winners of this year’s Nature of Farming Award. The annual award is a joint enterprise with the RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, UFU, Plantlife and The Telegraph who run this award to highlight the work that farmers are doing to help the wildlife on their farms. Martin Hamilton farms and Mash Direct together make up a family-owned innovative farming and food production business.  Based near Comber in Co. Down, they grow a wide range of vegetables which are used to produce an extensive range of mash potato and cabbage products under the Mash Direct brand. [caption id="attachment_23722" align="alignright" width="186" caption="Martin Hamilton who along with Mash Direct are the winners of NI Nature of Farming Award."][/caption] The farm has actively adopted a range of innovative methods and practices to maximise their positive impact on the environment. These include, integrated farm management, efficiency improvements to minimise carbon emissions and energy consumption, recycling and re-use of water, and ecological approaches to pest and weed control. “We are delighted to have won this award,” said Martin Hamilton. “The family have had a long held interest in wild life and we hope that this demonstrates that good business can co-exist with good environmental practice.” Wildlife flourishes on both the Martin’s home farm and at the Mash Direct farm with threatened seed eating farmland birds such as yellowhammer, tree sparrow and linnet using the hedgerows as a breeding ground. Wild bird cover is sown each year and winter stubbles are retained to help these species sustain themselves over the winter months.  Rough grass margins are also maintained which not only benefit breeding birds by attracting insects for them to feed to their chicks but mammals like the Irish hare, shrews and field mice. Gary Adams, the farm manager said, ”Sustainability is one of our main objectives and something I think about on a daily basis when developing our farm operations.  For example we created a reed bed system and marsh area, and we also bought a robotic hoe which has seen us reduce the amount of pesticides we use by 25% (not only benefitting the environment but the amount we are spending on ever more expensive chemicals).” [caption id="attachment_13100" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A female Yellowhammer, an endangered species, perched on a stump. (Photo Tom Marshal)"][/caption] In addition, other farming techniques, such as strategic rotation of crops to prevent accumulation of particular pests and weeds, minimal-till farming, striving towards minimal ploughing and harrowing to reduce soil disturbance, maintaining organic matter and minimising risk or soil erosion and spraying of garlic on our crops which deters pests naturally. Martin’s farm will now be put forward for the next level of the judging process and will hopefully make it through to national level of the award. Also for the highly commended category in this year’s award are Brendan Tumelty, a  mixed farmer from Downpatrick and Davida O’Connor, who manages andarable farm at Seaforde. The Nature of Farming Award is kindly supported by the EU LIFE+ fund, providing an opportunity to reward farmers contributing to the EU Birds and Habitats Directives through their sensitive management]]>