Farming, naturally

Shirley and Michael Clarke run Williamwood Farm near Lockerbie in the south of Scotland. Last year they created two Jubilee Woods on their land with support from the Woodland Trust. Hundreds of local school children had the chance to plant a tree as a result. Shirley Clarke tells her story in this guest blog: 

“Running a commercial livestock farm is a way of life. It can be hard but we love it and draw huge satisfaction from the natural world around us. We appreciate the rewards that the farmland gives us be they in the beauty of the wildflowers, the trees, the wildlife and birds, or the helping hand the well-managed pasture gives us through good quality fodder and grazing, helping us to rear good quality livestock and be a sustainable farm. 

We wanted to share these pleasures with others and so we actively encourage groups of schoolchildren or interested parties to come to the farm and see the diversity for themselves and learn how we created the different habitats for birds and wild animals. 

We bought Williamwood Farm five years ago, and as the name suggests, there are many ancient and semi-natural trees on the farm. With careful thinning and managing these woodlands, we have created marked, guided walks offering our visitors the chance to sit among the trees and marvel at the many species of wild flowers that have now started to appear after the canopy has been opened up, allowing light to the forest floor. 

Image: WTPL2012 was the year of the Jubilee and to celebrate we planted two Jubilee Woods with the Woodland Trust Scotland. To help us on the day to do this we invited five local primary schools so that we had as many children of all abilities enjoy the experience. In just a few hours, they managed to plant 800 native trees – and most of these trees have survived!

It was an amazing experience, the children were so keen to learn and get their hands dirty. They and we loved it. 

We created wetland areas attracting many wading birds to add to our shy populations of snipe and woodcock. Oyster catchers, lapwings and curlew nest with us over the spring and summer, many ducks stay over the winter enjoying the feed we put out for them. Careful management of corvids ensures that other broods are successfully reared and in the Autumn months we are treated to the “peewits pippers and whaups” of the young lapwings, oyster catchers and curlew. 

Having been members of the RSPB volunteer/farm alliance since living at Williamwood, we have had many bird surveys done on the farm. One such survey showed that tree sparrows were in danger of becoming endangered so we made hundreds of bird boxes and made little tree sparrow villages up in the trees and again our rewards are in the huge number of breeding pairs we now have, not to mention the many babies that appear at the feeding station on our kitchen window. We planted acre plots of wild bird cover around the fields to sustain the many finches, tits and visiting migrating birds we have. 

Sharing is important to all of us at Williamwood and to this end we became volunteer farmers with RHET (Royal Highland Education Trust), visiting schools and hosting visits to the farm. We tailor the visit to the school, and as the farm is so diverse we can cover farming “from field to fork”, trees and the environment, habitats and wildlife, pond dipping and in some cases actually doing something on the farm. 

We love to do our bit by adding to the natural features year on year – for example in the coming year we will be planting at least 500m of new hedges, fencing them off and making a walk around the whole farm giving walkers and horse riders the chance to take in the views of the fields, the woodland and see the diverse range of wildlife that is now multiplying in number due to the creation of better habitats. 

It is a great way of life and we love to share it!”

Michael and Shirley are nominated for a 'Nature of Farming' award

Michael and Shirley are nominated for a ‘Nature of Farming’ award

Michael and Shirley’s dedication to improving their farm for nature has seen them named as one of eight finalists in the RSPB’s Nature of Farming Award. If you’ve been inspired by their story please vote for them in the final of the RSPB Nature of Farming Award. Voting closes at the end of August.

 The Woodland Trust offers landowners and organisations who want to plant trees expert advice and funding support based on four decades of experience.

Rory Syme, PR & Communications Officer, Woodland Trust Scotland


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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4 Responses to Farming, naturally

  1. Raymond Winslow says:

    As a volunteer for the Woodland Trust I applaud everything that Michael and Shirley are doing and at the same time am wondering why the tree saplings that are shown in the image have been planted in such a regimented fashion, and then I do know that as they grow, the trees can be thinned out, thereby creating a more natural effect. And it would be great to pay Michael and Shirley a visit at some future date.

  2. Peter Kyte says:

    Getting children involved in any aspect of nature can only be a good thing.

  3. Neal Pearson says:

    Such a pity that the trees have been planted in serried ranks.

    • thehutts says:

      But at least they have been planted and lots of children learnt from the experience. I also think they will be better cared for than some Jubille tree planting I have seen. I am sure some of them will survive to see the next jubilee!

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