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On Wednesday 10th April, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation were delighted to team up with Marsdens Games Feeds to present a series of awards celebrating conservation and biodiversity in the game industry. We were delighted with the number of entries and the quality of the work that people are doing on the ground to improve biodiversity across the UK.

On Wednesday 10th April, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation were delighted to team up with Marsdens Games Feeds to present a series of awards celebrating conservation and biodiversity in the game industry.

This is the second year that The Conservation Champions Awards have been celebrated, and we were delighted with the number of entries and the quality of the work that people are doing on the ground to improve biodiversity across the UK.

Thomas Welham, Sales Director for Marsdens Game Feeds, was joined on the stage by David Pooler, Chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, to present the awards.

These awards are aimed at shoots, estates, gamekeepers and land managers, in a bid to highlight the positive impact their excellent work has on our countryside and its biodiversity.

They were separated into five categories: Innovation; Husbandry & Welfare; Habitat; Responsible Land Management, and the Marsdens Special Award: a special commendation award, with the winner chosen by Marsdens.

The Marsdens Special Award is awarded to an individual or team who promote best practice in gamekeeping or shooting for today, and for future generations. We received a large number of nominations, but there was a clear winner who stood head and shoulders above the rest. This person was Geoff Eyre of WM Eyre & Sons.

For over thirty years Geoff – an agronomist at heart – has in his own words been a “gardener, on a landscape scale” across the uplands.

Others describe him as “a pioneer of moorland restoration.” His knowledge of growing vegetation species and his use of innovative techniques, together with his passion for grouse moors and improving habitats, has led other organisations to contact Geoff for advice and assistance.

As one of his nominators said: “Geoff’s legacy on moorland will stand the test of time – especially in the Peak District. Although I have nominated Geoff for the Marsdens Special Award, his work fits into many other categories, which is why, in my opinion; he is a true candidate for the top award.”

The Innovation award is targeted at new ideas and techniques developed for the benefit of the habitat and landscape, as well as for the improvement of gamekeeping, rearing and shooting in general.

We had some excellent nominations in this category which just goes to show that there is superb work taking place across the country.

The winners were Anthony Barber Lomax and Ruth Battye, for their revolutionary ‘Wildfire Risk Assessment’. Their team mapped the whole of the Peak District National Park to highlight how catastrophic a landscape scale wildfire would be for our moorland if conditions aligned.

This model can be extended to all moorland areas which, in the event of a wildfire, would not only prove disastrous for carbon emissions, but also for wildlife, water quality, human resources and community and even human life. The report can be found at www.peakdistrictwildfire.co.uk.

The Husbandry and Welfare Award is nominated by vets, and is for best practices that have been shown to benefit the welfare of game.

This category caused much discussion between the panel of judges, as the quality of nominations was so high. In the end it was obvious from the short-list that there were two clear winners: one for Husbandry and one for Welfare.

The 2024 Conservation Champions Award for Husbandry and Welfare was therefore presented to two very worthy winners: Anna Rainbird from Wallingfen Game Farm and Chris Bradbury from Nantclywyd Hall Shoot.

Anna Rainford took over the family game farm from her late father and is determined to keep improving the business, travelling to Poland and the USA to gain insight and new ideas.

Her standards are very high and antibiotic reduction is a key focus. Attention is paid to best practice, staff training, excellent hygiene, improving health and ensuring biosecurity is of the highest standard. Anna is heavily involved in advising vets in writing the Trusted Game and Welfare Scheme standards, ensuring the standards written are practical and sensible.

Chris Bradbury and his team have shown exceptional work on their shoot to provide an excellent environment for their birds. They have worked tirelessly to create release pens of the highest standard, with a low stocking density, impressive protection from predators and driving down antibiotic use.

The results have shown significant improvements in mortality figures and medicine usage. Not only have they developed this safe environment at their shoot, they have been generous with their knowledge and experience, encouraging others to visit and helping those with less experience.

The Habitat category is for an estate or shoot which has improved the habitat for game or red and amber-listed species. This was by far the most popular category for nominations, which is reassuring to see.

The high number of entries made it particularly challenging to choose a winner. However, the 2024 Conservation Champions Award for Habitat was awarded to George Winn Darley of Spaunton Estate in the North York Moors.

George and his team have seen record-breaking raptor sightings in recent years. Bird of Prey sightings have increased to 2144 in 2022, from a base of 711 in 2018. Kestrel, red kites and merlin are thriving on the estate.

In addition, they have worked closely with the Yorkshire Peat Partnership to block gullies with heather bales and turf bunds to stop flooding downstream.

The Responsible Land Management award is for an estate or shoot operating in a protected landscape who can show how their work improves that habitat to improve biodiversity.

Our winner is Edward Gallia of Nether Cerne Farm. Nether Cerne is set in the Dorset National Landscape in the chalk downland of the Cerne Valley. In the late 1960s, Godfrey Gallia bought a 1,200 acre piece of Dorset and set to work converting it into a high quality pheasant shoot – planting woods and thickening hedge lines; all to 1970s Game Conservancy blueprints.

50 years later Edward took on the running of the farm and shoot, putting more emphasis on habitat management for wildlife. Habitat remains a priority, and each year there is a cyclical programme of habitat management including hedge-laying, coppicing and river maintenance.

Awkward field corners and steep areas have been reverted from arable to grass and plenty of natural mess is allowed for the sake of wildlife. Surveys suggest that the farm is in a healthy state for wildlife, and pheasants love it too!

The NGO and Marsdens were once again delighted with the sheer number of nominees, as well as with the calibre of entries. We would urge anyone who didn’t win this year to re-enter for next year’s awards. Further information on the 2025 Conservation Champions Awards will be available shortly at www.conservationchampions.org.

Conservation Champions Awards 2024

Marsdens Special Award - Geoff Eyre, WM Eyre & Sons

Innovation - Anthony Barber Lomax and Ruth Battye, Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate

Husbandry and Welfare: Joint winners – 

Chris Bradbury, Nantclwyd Hall Shoot and Anna Rainbird, Wallingfen Game Farm

Habitat - George Winn Darley, Spaunton Estate

Responsible Land Management - Edward Gallia, Nether Cerne Farm

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