Ruthven farm outside Tomintoul has become something of a magnet for journalists and cameras since farmers Jim and Lesley Simmons successfully scooped the 2016 Cairngorms Nature Farm Award and the more recent Food and Farming accolade in the 2017 Nature of Scotland Awards hosted by the RSPB. Read about Jim’s vision.
The Simmons moved to Ruthven in 2006 after being the successful applicants of a 15-year limited duration tenancy for the 800 acre farm owned by the Crown Estate. The competition was tough and 25 others tendered for the farm. The Estate were interested in applicant’s proposals for the future and the strong environmental plan the Simmons produced worked in their favour.
The aim at Ruthven is to produce quality livestock extensively with low input and the 25 Gascon cattle and 800 ewes are a luxury product. Jim’s ethos of doing what you can with the land without impacting on the environment stems from his childhood in East Anglia where his father was a farm manager. Here he spent his time outside appreciating wildlife and this enjoyment of nature has continued ever since.
In 2008/09 the farm entered the Scottish Rural Development Programme, Rural Priorities scheme and they laid 4500m of hedge as well as 5 acres of broadleaf woodland planting – an impressive 36,000 trees! This has had the dual benefit of providing shelter for livestock as well as creating wildlife corridors. Other work undertaken included riparian fencing for the protection of freshwater pearl mussel populations and the creation of ponds and scrapes. The surrounding area has the greatest density of wading birds found in the UK, in particular lapwing (known locally as Peesie’s), curlew, both of which are in decline across the UK, and oystercatcher.
In 2015/16 Ruthven was enrolled in the current Agri-Environment Climate Scheme with measures including creating species rich grassland, a significant area of wader-grazed grassland, and cutting rush pasture all designed to benefit wading birds. The success of these options will be determined by RSPB monitoring of the farm wader population through the Peesie Project.
Existing hedges are also managed through the scheme, thus retaining wildlife corridors suited to a variety of different animals. Improving water quality through riparian management i.e. grass margins, scrub/tree protection also benefits interests of the River Spey SAC and important species such as salmon, freshwater pearl mussel and sea lamprey.
Jennifer Heatley, the site officer for the River Spey SAC says;
“The protection of floodplain woodland is also commendable as it provides habitat for otters and also diversity to help support the aquatic river ecosystem upon which the salmon and other species depend.”
Jim modestly credits the assistance of his agent at Allathan Associates as well as the support of the Crown Estate and the beneficial sporting management of the Estate with the success they have seen while recognising the favourable starting point of good habitat on the farm.
Most recently Ruthven has been central to the innovative trial of the Natural Capital Protocol on three units across the Crown Estate. The results of the trial are expected to be published shortly but the willingness to participate in this approach demonstrates the Simmons’ ability to think outside of the box and approach the farm’s potential in new ways.
You can follow the work going on at Ruthven Farm on their Facebook page.