James and Martina Ham.

Westmeath farmer is 2022 Farming for Nature ambassador

James Ham from Moyvore has been chosen as a Farming for Nature Ambassador for 2022.

James is one of five Ambassadors chosen for the 2022 Farming for Nature Public Vote Awards. Now in its fifth year, Farming For Nature (FFN, www.farmingfornature.ie) was set up with the aim of identifying, celebrating and supporting farmers who are farming, or farmers who wish to farm, in ways that support and protect nature on their land.

This year’s ambassadors are from across Ireland and include beef, dairy, forestry, horticulture and tillage farmers who manage a wide range of valuable habitats including species-rich grasslands and heaths, wetlands, uplands, woodlands and more.

The public are invited to vote for their favourite farming story at www.farmingfornature.ie.

People can learn more about each ambassador by viewing a specially commissioned short film which provides an insight into the farmers and their inspiring work.

James Ham farms alongside his family in Moyvore. Their 52ha farm is 50% under woodland and forestry and the other 50% is mature multispecies pasture including approximately 4ha of spring barley which is used for feed and straw.

James has worked hard at greatly reducing the number of chemical inputs on the farm over the years.

No insecticides have ever been used on the farm, and over the last 10 years, the level of fungicide used on the crop has been reduced to the point that none was applied last year.

Chemical fertiliser inputs have also been cut back and replaced with farmyard manure. They run a small suckler herd of about 20 Aubrac cows.

There is more than 4000 metres of hedgerow on the farm, equivalent to approximately 1.5ha of linear woodland, which is left mostly left untrimmed. Regular hedge maintenance is by traditional hedge laying.

These thick and mature hedges provide are a crucial habitat for birds and insects, and also shelter for the livestock. The continuous cover forestry system contains a wide range of hardwood and softwood trees. Tree species include hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, crab apple, oak, elm, holly, sycamore, alder, beech, birch, Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir, Larch, Scots Pine and more.

James maximised the amount of open spaces within the forestry plantations to help create wildflower reservoirs for insects and the wet areas and drains are ideal for dragonflies.

“The afforested half of the farm, despite being relatively young, has greatly improved the amount of wildlife on the farm. Pine martin are now present, and the Jays are obviously doing their job, as we see little oak and hazel seedlings all over the site.”

Dr Brendan Dunford of the Burren Programme, founder and committed volunteer with Farming for Nature, said; “At a time of so much divisive debate around food security, biodiversity loss and climate change, this year’s farming for nature ambassadors offer us the hope, inspiration and practical advice that we so desperately need to navigate the challenges, and embrace the opportunities, that lie ahead. These farmers deserve our respect, gratitude and support: they embody all that’s great about rural Ireland and we are so proud of them.”

The five Ambassadors will be featured at the annual Burren Winterage Weekend (www.burrenwinterage.com) in October when the winner of the public vote award will also be announced.

Ten additional ambassadors have been announced and will be profiled over the coming months, taking the FFN ambassador network to a total of 81 farms across the island.

The Farming for Nature Awards are sponsored by Bord Bia and supported by a range of farming and conservation interests including the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the National Rural Network.

The deadline for voting is midnight Friday October 28, 2022.

For more information go to www.farmingfornature.ie.