Farming with nature recognised in annual awards

Press release
Farmer Steve Conisbee in a field surrounded by sheep
Published : 03 Aug 2018

The very best farm food producers have been recognised at the National Trust’s annual Fine Farm Produce Awards, presented at BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace.

Now in their thirteenth year, the awards celebrate the very best produce from the Trust’s 1,500 tenant farmers and estates, who between them look after more than 500,000 acres of farmland in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As well as being judged for taste, products are assessed against a range of environmental standards to guarantee their quality and origin.

“Our Fine Farm Produce Awards have attracted a great range of winning products this year,” said Rob Macklin, the National Trust’s Head of Food and Farming, “The quality of entries has been as high as ever and it has been a pleasure for the judges to see that the highest standards of farming can deliver excellent produce and work hand in hand with nature.”

“For the third year, we have also made the special ‘Farming with Nature’ award, recognising the producer who has done the most in the past year to improve wildlife habitats on their land, as judged by local teams.”

Steve Conisbee of F. Conisbee and Son’s farm at Polesden Lacey in Surrey was presented with the prestigious Farming with Nature award by Charlotte Smith, presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, in the National Trust Cookery Theatre at the Countryfile Live event today (03 August).

Having been consistent Fine Farm Produce Award winners in the past, they have changed their farming operations in the last couple of years to better favour wildlife habitats on the land they manage. By altering grazing to benefit chalk grassland plants, cutting hay meadows sequentially and by adding wildflower mixes and pollinator strips they’ve improved floral diversity on the farm and attracted increased numbers of bees.

Steve Conisbee said: “Our philosophy has always been about working with the land, not against it, to produce the best quality products.  Farming for nature is all about striking a balance and understanding the land you manage. We’ve been changing the way we work to benefit nature, which benefits the farm too.
 
“We’ve been fortunate enough to win National Trust Fine Farm Produce Awards in the past, but to win the overall Farming with Nature award is such an honour for our family, who’ve been farming here for many generations.”

Winner of the Overall Food Award was Calke Estate in Derbyshire, for their Portland Hogget, a rare breed that has long been associated with the estate.  Sold as hogget  at 1-2 years old, this meat has developed a grassy aroma, great texture and deep gamey, buttery mutton flavour which impressed the food judges and received the highest food score overall.

Bill Cove, Countryside Manager at Calke Abbey, said: “Portland sheep have been associated with Calke Estate since 1760. Letting the lambs mature into hogget is a real investment in time compared to selling them as lamb, but pays dividends in terms of flavour. The meat is butchered on site too and profits go straight back into the estate here.”

For the second year running, the winner of the Overall Drinks Award for its Medium Sparkling Cider was the 6,500 acre Killerton Estate near Exeter, one of the largest estates looked after by the National Trust.

Their Medium Sparkling Cider pipped fierce competition, gaining the highest overall score amongst all the winning 2018 drinks. Hand-picked, this medium cider scored well for its full-flavoured, complex character with notes of toffee apple and subtle smokiness.

Killerton’s 50 acres of orchards are home to 58 traditional apple varieties, most of which originate in the West Country. Varieties include ‘Star of Devon’ and Payhembury, as well the oddly named ‘Slack-ma-girdle’ and ‘Hangy Down’ varieties. With no chemicals used, these orchards are managed naturally and are a real haven for wildlife. As some of the trees are over a century old, the Killerton team are passionate about looking after them for their historic and botanical interest, as well as for their yield.

“Killerton cider is really important to the estate,” said Fi Hailstone, Killerton Produce Ranger. “It’s created by passionate local groups, staff and volunteers who all help us to collect apples from our orchards by hand, before they’re crushed on site using a 200 year old cider press.

“The traditional orchards are vital for biodiversity, so any profits from sales go straight back into conservation at Killerton and have recently helped us to recreate a lost orchard, with new hedges and trees.”

In total  27 producers were recognised for 64 fantastic food, drink and countryside products, ranging from heritage wool and free-range eggs to hogget, venison and sparkling cider. The produce was judged by a panel of nine food and drink experts, including Clive Goudercourt, the National Trust’s development chef.

For more information about the awards and or find out more about this year’s award winning products and producers, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/finefarmproduceawards 

A full list of this year’s winners follows below:

East of England
Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire – Home Grown Apple Juice
Wimpole Home Farm, Cambridgeshire – Organic Free-Range Eggs, Rare Breed Traditional Pork Sausage

London and South East
F. Conisbee & Son, Surrey – (OVERALL FARMING FOR NATURE WINNER) Beef Burger (Gluten Free), Rolled Turkey Breast, Leg of Lamb, Lamb Rack
Charles Palmer Vineyards, East Sussex – Classic Cuvee Brut 2013, English Sparkling Wine
Westerham Brewery, Kent – Viceroy IPA, Grasshopper Bitter
Saddlescombe Farm, West Sussex – Sussex Beef Topside, Rump Steak, Mince

Midlands
Calke Abbey, Derbyshire – Portland Hogget (OVERALL FOOD WINNER) Leg, Chops, Saddle, Dice, Fallow Venison Dice, Steak, Haunch, Saddle
Belton House, Lincolnshire – Fallow Venison Loin, Haunch, Steak

North
Dunham Massey Apple Juice and Cider, Greater Manchester – Organic Apple Juice, Dunham Dabbler Medium Sparkling Cider, Dunham Red Eye Medium Sweet Cider
Low Sizergh Farm, Cumbria – Free-Range Eggs
Redhouse Farm, Greater Manchester – Organic Free-Range Eggs
Beningbrough Home Farm, North Yorkshire – Aberdeen Angus Topside, Beef Mince
Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, North Yorkshire – Fallow Venison Steak, Loin, Sika Venison Dice, Loin, Red Deer Venison Dice, Loin

Northern Ireland
McIvor’s Cider Co. County Armagh – Traditional Dry Cider, Medium Cider, Plum and Ginger Cider

South West
Killerton Estate, Devon –, Medium Sparkling Cider (OVERALL DRINKS WINNER), Medium Dry Cider, Apple Juice
South Somerset Apple Juice and Cider Project – Apple Juice, Barrington Court Cider
Clyston Mill, Killerton, Devon – Stoneground Wholemeal Flour
Handmade Exmoor, Somerset – Heritage Wool
Burrow Farm, Devon – Ruby Red Devon Topside
Conygree Farm, Gloucestershire – Hogget Leg, Traditional Hereford Beef, Slow Chuck Roast
Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire – Fallow Venison Dice
Ruscombe Farm, Gloucestershire – Red Poll Beef Topside, Rump Steak, Mince
The Story Group (Meatbox), Bristol – South Devon Beef Topside, Rump Steak, Mince
Teign Valley, Devon – Fallow Venison Dice, Loin, Silverside, Top Round

Wales
Ochr Sefn Isa, Conwy – Free Range Welsh Eggs
Gower Salt Marsh Lamb, West Glamorgan – Carvery Leg of Gower Salt Marsh Lamb