Two Aberdeenshire farms have been honoured for their exceptional farm-forestry integration in Scotland's annual ‘Tree Oscars’, the Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards.

Wendy Seel and Anne Taylor, who run an organic vegetable business at North Tillydaff, Midmar, won the overall Farm Woodland Award, while James and Nikki Yoxall, who graze beef cattle in trees at Howemill, Huntly, were winners in the Young People’s Farm Woodland Award.

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In a very competitive field, Ednie Farms, St Fergus, near Peterhead, was highly commended, and beaten by the slimmest of margins to the main award. Two other sites were commended – Walter and Margaret Dalgleish, who farm 99ha at Parks of Garden, Arnprior, near Stirling, and Phil Knott, owner-occupier of the Wildlife Croft Skye, Sleat, on the Isle of Skye.

“We have seen some great examples of farm-forest integration this year, on farms large and small, and on crofts too” said Angela Douglas, Executive Director of Scotland’s Finest Woods. “There is a real understanding of truly integrated land use across those honoured this year – and a clear ability to put it into practice.”

North Tillydaff, a 51-hectare farm, including 22ha of woodland, won the magnificent silver Lilburn Trophy, gifted by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, for its overall victory.

The judges commented: “The main farming activity is a successful organic vegetable growing business employing five people. The viability of the horticultural enterprise is entirely dependent on the shelter provided by woodland and associated hedgerows. The business could not have been established without this shelter and in this very real sense, five jobs are dependent on the farm’s woodland and that alone makes North Tillydaff an outstanding application.

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“The woods are well-cared for and a great deal of thought has been given to their ecology and future management. The scale and planned integration in land-use, along with the future management plans including cattle grazing to better manage the field layer, make this an outstanding ‘fit’ for this award.”

James and Nikki Yoxall were praised by the judges for their 'highly impressive approach to setting up a grazing system where few would even consider it possible' at Howemill Farm. They said it was 'a wonderful example of a unique integration of trees and farming' on the Yoxalls’ own seven hectares and through grazing agreements with neighbours on a further 32 hectares.

The judges concluded: “This business will go from strength to strength and is to be held up as a great example of 'it’s not what you hae, but what you do with what you hae'."

Ms Yoxall said the trees gave their cattle shelter all year round, offering shade in summer and shelter in winter: “This means the cattle can live outside all year with minimal inputs and we can produce fantastic beef in a way that is totally harmonious with the natural surroundings,” she added.

Runner-up in the overall competition, 585-hectare Ednie Farms, was a 'fabulous example of farm woodland', judges said. They were very impressed with the integration of the 70 ha woodlands into a large commercial farming operation by Elaine Booth and Peter Robertson. Judges commented: “Unforeseen opportunities have been used to their full potential. For example, 500 tonnes of thinnings are used to dry the farm’s annual 1500 tonnes of grain produced, some chips are used for cattle bedding and an income is gained from selling dried chips. There are shelter benefits both to cattle and cereal crops. If no trees were present, this business would be unrecognizable both in landscape terms and financially.”

In Arnprior, Parks of Garden was praised for its 'striking vision' of how woodlands could benefit a farming business, now and in future, while the Wildlife Croft Skye’s use of fruit trees and willows for basket-weaving brought additional benefits to the crofting business and showed what is possible in what might be seen as a treeless landscape.

Both farmscale awards were supported by SAC Consulting and Scottish Woodlands Ltd.

The other 2021 Scotland's Finest Woods Awards winners – announced at the first-ever online awards ceremony – included Scotland’s largest landowner, Anders Holch Povlsen, who won the New Native Woods category for Killiehuntly Woodland in the Cairngorms. Mr Povlsen said the success was based on 'a big team effort' and added: “We very much appreciate this recognition and I’m very proud.”

Director of Conservation at Wildland Ltd, Thomas MacDonell, who led the project, said it was absolutely fantastic to win in 'the premier forestry awards'. He added: “This could not have happened without Anders Holch Povlsen, who had the vision and the courage to stick by us.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the schools and early years prizes for Pitlochry High School, and Perth Outdoor Playgroup. She said: “I’m delighted to be able to support these fantastic Awards again, and to see young people in Scotland, from nursery through to secondary school, engaging with trees and nature in such a positive way.”

Environment Minister Máiri McAllan presented the Community Woodland Awards to Laide and Aultbea Community Woodland, Ross-shire, and Craigmillar Castle Park in Edinburgh.

This year also saw the first Climate Change Champion Award, selected from entrants to other categories who specified that they would also like to be considered for the prize. They had to show that their woodland had contributed to mitigating climate change, adapted to the changing climate or raised awareness about the issue.

The winner was Balbeg Estate’s Bennan Hill in Straiton, Ayrshire, described as a 'well-planned, well-executed case study in addressing the climate emergency by seeking to rapidly sequester carbon'. Owner, Andrew Sinclair demonstrated 'a strong commitment to addressing climate change and a consistency of vision which made him a worthy inaugural Climate Change Champion'.

Balbeg Estate also won the Quality Timber Award for multi-purpose forestry for a whole forest or estate, while Auchintender, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire, won the Quality Timber Award for silvicultural excellence in a single stand or compartment of trees.

The award for New Commercial Woods went to the large Larriston Forest planting scheme near Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders.

Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards 2021 results

Climate Change Champion Award – Winner: Andrew and Lynne Sinclair, Balbeg Estate’s Bennan Hill, Straiton, Ayrshire; Highly Commended: Borders Forest Trust, Corehead, near Moffat, Dumfriesshire; Highly Commended: Aylsa Leslie, Auchintender, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire.

Farm Woodland Award – Winner: Wendy Seel and Anne Taylor, North Tillydaff, Midmar, Aberdeenshire; Highly Commended: Elaine Booth and Peter Robertson, Ednie Farms, St Fergus, near Peterhead; Commended: Walter and Margaret Dalgleish, Parks of Garden, Arnprior, near Stirling; Commended: Phil Knott, Wildlife Croft Skye, Sleat, Isle of Skye.

Farm Woodland Award (Young People) – Winner: James and Nikki Yoxall, Howemill, Huntly, Aberdeenshire.

Large Community Woodland Group – Winner: Craigmillar Castle Park, Edinburgh (Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust); Commended: Tiroran Community Forest, Isle of Mull, Argyll (South West Mull and Iona Development).

Small Community Woodland Group – Winner: Laide and Aultbea Community Woodland, Laide, Ross-shire. Highly Commended: Camusnagaul and Achaphubuil, Near Ardgour, Highland (Treslaig and Achaphubuil Crofters Woodland Trust); Commended: Hannahston Community Woodland, Drongan, East Ayrshire (Friends of Hannahston Woods and East Ayrshire Woodlands) and Lochend Woods, Dunbar, East Lothian (Dunbar Community Woodland Group).

New Native Woods – Winner: Anders Holch Povlsen, Killiehuntly Woodland, Cairngorms; Highly Commended: Eriboll Estate, Loch Hope Woodlands, Eriboll Estate, North West Sutherland; Highly Commended: Forestry and Land Scotland (Central Region team), Balgownie Woods, West Fife; Highly Commended: Borders Forest Trust, Corehead, near Moffat, Dumfriesshire; Commended: Torwoodlee and Buckholm Estates Co. Ltd., Halkburn Woodland, Torwoodlee Estate, Galashiels, Scottish Borders; Commended: Hector MacLean, New Spott Wood, near Kirriemuir, Angus.

Quality Timber Awards – New Commercial Woods – Winner: Mrs J C Hands, Larriston Forest, Newcastleton, Scottish Borders; Highly Commended: James Jones & Sons Ltd., Tillyrie, Milnathort, Perth and Kinross;

Quality Timber Awards – Single stand of trees, compartment or small wood – Winner: Aylsa Leslie, Auchintender, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire; Highly Commended: William Urquhart for Craigston Castle, Turriff, Aberdeenshire.

Quality Timber Awards – Whole Forest or Estate – Winner: Andrew and Lynne Sinclair, Balbeg Estate, Straiton, Ayrshire.

Schools Award – Winner: Pitlochry High School, Perthshire; Runner-up: Robert Douglas Memorial School, Scone, Perthshire

Early Years Award – Winner: Perth Outdoor Playgroup, Perth; Runner-up: Middlefield Nursery, Aberdeen.