Northern Ireland Agriculture and Environment Minister Edwin Poots has opened applications for the fifth round of the Environmental Farming Scheme today (August 16).

Minister Poots made the announcement during a visit to a farm in Downpatrick, Co. Down, to see first-hand the results the scheme can help achieve.

Cecil Nelson has participated in agri-environment schemes for a number of years, working closely with his local Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) conservation officer Mark McCormick.

By managing hedgerows, leaving stubble fields over the winter and growing winter feeding crops for birds, he has achieved a 100% increase in the endangered yellowhammer bird population on his farm over the last 10 years.

Nelson's mixed arable farm has also been participating in the RSPB-led EFS Farmland Birds Group and now also has a breeding pair of long-eared owls as a result of his participation in the scheme.

'If we all do a little it makes a big difference'

Minister Poots said: “The Nelson’s farm demonstrates just what can be achieved by doing the right things in the right places to help biodiversity.

“As Minister for both Agriculture and Environment, I am delighted to have been able to support the work being carried out here through our agri-environment schemes with outstanding results and I commend the Nelsons for their efforts.

“I’m delighted to announce that the fifth application for the Environmental Farming Scheme opens today and farmers can choose from a range of options to create environmental benefit on their own farms.

"There is a range of arable options to choose from which are designed to enhance the biodiversity value of your farm with minimal impact on your cropping rotations or management.

If we all do a little to support nature on our farms it will make a big difference.”

Welcoming today’s visit by the Minister, Nelson said: “Farming is still very much the priority with us, but the family and I get great satisfaction from the wildlife we have on the farm and we like to give it a helping hand.”