JIM AND Lesley Simmons of Ruthven Farm, Tomintoul, have been named as the winners of the 'Food and Farming' category in this year's Nature of Scotland Awards.

Held last week in Edinburgh, where nine projects across the same number of categories were recognised for their 'passionate commitment' to wildlife. The Simmons won their category – sponsored by the James Hutton Institute – having impressed the judging panel with their responsible approach in caring for biodiversity whilst running a commercial farm.

Growing up in the Suffolk countryside, Jim had noticed the decline in many of the farmland bird species which were a familiar part of his childhood, much of it attributed to changes in farming practices. It was then he decided to play his part in the reversal of wildlife decline and act as an advocate for wildlife friendly farming.

He has since created habitats on his farm which had the dual role of benefitting conservation and the commercial farm business, successfully establishing woodlands, which provide shelter and help reduce water run-off, rich meadows with hedgerows and wetlands which benefit waders, as well as providing water for livestock and natural flood management.

Cairngorms National Park Authority’s director of conservation, Pete Mayhew, said: “Ruthven Farm is a fantastic example of how to farm productively and benefit wildlife. It is a joy to see the rich mosaic of habitats on the farm and hear the calls of lapwing, curlew, redshank and skylark. I am delighted that their work has been recognised nationally with this well-deserved award.”

For his part, Jim said: “I am honoured to win this award. The way we farm is a four pronged approach – we start with a favourable habitat, we have a farm management plan, but crucially we have the support of the Crown Estate and benefit from the wider sporting management of the estate. I am a firm believer that our success comes from all these four elements working in partnership.”

In 2016 Jim won the Cairngorms Nature Farm Award for his outstanding contribution to biodiversity and habitat management. He is regularly called upon to talk to other farm managers and hosts farm tours to inspire others to do the same.

All of the Nature of Scotland Award winners were presented with specially designed trophies created by silversmith Bryony Knox and sponsored by Turcan Connell.

Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said: “I was delighted to be at the sixth year of the Nature of Scotland Awards. My portfolio includes tourism and I was pleased to see that the important role that nature plays in underpinning our tourism industry was recognised in the Nature Tourism Award category.

"The energy and enthusiasm of the nominees in all the categories really shone through. I would like to congratulate the winners of this year’s Nature of Scotland’s Awards and thank everyone who is giving their time to the conservation of Scotland’s natural environment.”

Director of RSPB Scotland, Anne McCall, said: “Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, you should be extremely proud of the work you’re doing for nature conservation in Scotland. It’s inspiring to see so many people dedicating their time to protecting our country’s precious natural heritage, especially the number of young people who are making a real difference by engaging in conservation. Hopefully by continuing to talk about and celebrate these fantastic achievements, we can encourage even more people and organisations to get involved and help give nature a home in Scotland.”