Country Life Awards Winners

Country Campaigner of the Year

An individual or group that has battled to make a dramatic difference in the world of Country Life-and beyond

The British Beekeepers’ Association

With more than 15,000 members, the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) is the leading UK organisation representing beekeepers. In November 2008, members marched on Downing Street to hand in a petition, signed by more than 140,000, urging the Government to increase the amount of funding for research on bee health by £8 million. A third of UK hives was lost last year, along with about two billion bees, costing the economy in excess of £54 million. BBKA president Tim Lovett said:

‘Bees are one of the most economically useful creatures on Earth, pollinating a third of all we eat. They provide more than 50% of pollination of wild plants on which birds and mammals depend. We must identify what is killing them, and that means research.’

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The march resulted in an extra £10 million of funding from Defra, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, the Scottish Government, and the Wellcome Trust in April. This is being poured into researching the threats faced by Britain’s bees and other insect pollinators.

Country Event of the Year

The best-loved and most idiosyncratic rural outing that symbolises all that is best in Britain and pulls the community together

The Southwell Ploughing Match and Show, Nottinghamshire

The match is staged on a different farm or estate each year, and run on a largely volunteer basis by local farmers, uniting the community. One local describes it as ‘miners rubbing shoulders with gamekeepers, and footballers with jolly hockey sticks-we welcome the world and his wife. It’s a showpiece of the best of Nottinghamshire farming and rural life, and a great day out’.

Founded in 1855, the show was originally a modest affair, with just four ploughing classes, one for plashing (hedge laying), one for servitude and a sweepstake for roots. In 1870, cattle, pig and sheep classes were added, with horses and jumping classes the following year, and a dog show in 1876. The show re-emerged after the war, in 1947, and has since been held annually at venues across the county.

Country Person of the Year

Someone who has made a real difference to rural life, wildlife, agriculture, environment or craft, either locally or nationally

Mark Gibson is the owner of Craigengillan, a 3,000-acre Ayrshire estate.

The estate is set in a former mining community, hit hard by unemployment since the last deep pits closed a generation ago. Nevertheless, the community is strong, with great spirit and a real determination to build a new future. When he bought the estate eight years ago, Mr Gibson set out to share it with the village and with visitors.

This he has achieved with a great deal of labour, and, with the involvement of the local schools and others, has planted hedges, rebuilt stone dykes and repaired the ravages of aggressive farming and cultivation. Under his stewardship, the estate has achieved official organic status, and the lambs are sold throughout Britain. The Georgian

Stables are now restored as a working yard with 53 horses, giving jobs to eight school leavers. Ruined thatch-andstone cottages, once used by pilgrims, have been rebuilt as holiday homes. Mr Gibson has put in 17 miles of native hedging and is removing the dense sitka spruce plantations that so despoil large tracts of Scotland. About 1.5 million hardwood trees, including 250 acres of natives, have been planted. There are also 21 new bridges along the restored river path and five new lochs.

‘However stressful the day, if you dig in the walled garden, all your troubles go away,’ he says. ‘After you’ve been working for an hour or so, you can almost feel the presence of all the people who have done so before.’ Mr Gibson was winner of the FWAG Silver Lapwing Special Award in 2005 for Achievements in Sharing the Environment with people, and joint winner of a 2007 Georgian Group award. Craigengillan is listed as ‘outstanding’ in Historic Scotland’s Inventory of Gardens and Landscapes.

Country House of the Year

An outstanding property that reflects sympathetic restoration, careful stewardship and heritage protection. The winner could be a great house, a castle, or a simple cottage that can be private or open to the public

The Darnley Mausoleum,Cobham, Kent

Built on the instructions of the 3rd Earl of Darnley in 1786, this mausoleum is one of the great masterpieces of the architect James Wyatt. The story of its recent restoration as part of an £8 million project to revive the whole park at Cobham is one of the most heartening of recent years.

It has been effected through a remarkably complex partnership of bodies, including Gravesham Borough Council, Cobham Hall, English Heritage, Union Railways, Natural England, Kent County Council, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust.

Following the break-up of the Cobham estate in 1957, the mausoleum became neglected, and the construction of the M2 motorway in 1963 made it a magnet for joyriders and vandals.

The nadir of its fortunes came on Guy Fawkes Night in 1980, when the crypt was packed with petrol cans and tyres and ignited. The subsequent explosion reduced the interior to ruin.

Stimulus for the project came from compensation money paid out when the Channel Tunnel Railway Link cut through the northern edge of Cobham Park. A trust was set up to drive forward the restoration as part of a more ambitious park project.

The architect for the restoration was Purcell Miller Tritton, the main contractor was Paye, and Worthington Stone Carving has been responsible for the admirable masonry repairs and replacements to the mausoleum. The architectural work was underpinned by historical research by Roger Bowdler of English Heritage. Having been awarded Heritage Lottery funding in 2003, the restored mausoleum was handed over to the National Trust this year and is open to the public.

Rural Enterprise of the Year

For the most enterprising local business, particularly one that provides specialist services and products that promote the countryside

Farms for City Children

Founded by Michael and Clare Morpurgo in 1976, this now operates out of three farms in Devon, Pembrokeshire and Gloucestershire. They offer children from towns and cities the opportunity to live and work on a farm for a week and learn where their food comes from- in all seasons and in all weathers.
The children (aged between eight and 14) learn about everything on the farm, from animal husbandry to building and land management; many are disadvantaged and some have special educational needs. The farms rely entirely on fundraising and donations to continue. Farms For City Children has led the way in recognising the tremendous value of the outdoor way of life, combining plenty of fresh air with exciting, educational experiences. More than 3,000 children take advantage of the scheme each year. The children also get the chance to work with artists and craftsmen, creating collages of items found in the woods or writing poetry. They become very creative and get the chance to do things they may never do again in their lives.

Country Pub of the Year

For a hostelry that brings the community together, provides good locally sourced food and has found ways to flourish in difficult times

The Pigs, Edgefield, Norfolk

‘They do so much for our community that it beggars belief; they’re now trading pints for fish, meat and eggs as times get tough,’ says one regular.

At The Pigs, near Holt, Norfolk, all sorts of fresh produce has been swapped for pints at the pub, which now has a sign saying: ‘If you grow, breed, shoot or steal anything that may look at home on our menu, then bring it in and let’s do a deal!’ All meat is Norfolk-reared, additivefree, sourced directly from butchers and farmers practising good animal husbandry. Fish is from the North Sea and is delivered daily, most of the game is from the Edgefield shoots, and the fruit and vegetables are from Norfolk farm shops.

The Pigs also runs a children’s cookery class every other Saturday morning, aimed at encouraging children (aged 5-10) to use and appreciate local produce, and, last year, brought out a recipe book full of favourite Pigs’ dishes.

‘The Pigs has been inundated with locals clasping rabbits, pigeons, pheasants, crayfish and even chard, which they hand over at the bar for inspection. If the quality is good enough, producers are rewarded with a pint of their chosen tipple or a discount’ (The Daily Telegraph, August 14, 2008).

Country Garden of the Year

This could be anything from a large, historic garden to an allotment. It should recognise lifetime achievement as well as innovation

Leamington Spa station garden When Chiltern Rail took a 20-year franchise on the station at Leamington Spa in 2004, the former station gardens, among the largest in the country, were suffering from long-term neglect. In spring 2005, with the encouragement of Chiltern management, a group of volunteers started work on the gardens and formed the nucleus of the Friends of Leamington Station.

There are now some 30 volunteers with a wide variety of skills, whose commendable aim is to make Leamington Spa station ‘a pleasant place to start and finish any rail journey’. The volunteers raise funds to buy plants and tools and to pay for building repairs, as well as offering their labour in the garden.

The garden beside Platform 2 has a long lawn, several flowerbeds and a 164ft herbaceous border. A yew hedge was added as well as a trio of Prunus Amanogawa. The second area is a south-facing ‘upper’ terrace overlooking the station-forecourt car park. There is also a separate southand east-facing ‘lower’ terrace. Some 30 tubs and planters have been added to the platforms, which are looked after by a group of local Soroptimists.

Special award

The judges felt that one of the nominees, Maj Phil Packer, did not quite fit into any of the awards categories, but that his story is so remarkable that he should be given a special award to mark his extraordinary achievements.

Maj Phil Packer, fundraising, Help for Heroes

Maj Packer lost the use of his legs while on duty in Iraq and has since raised in excess of £1.1 million for Help for Heroes. He was injured in an incident following a rocket attack in Basra on February 19, 2008, and is now paraplegic.

He was told he would never walk again, but, against doctors’ advice, he completed this years’ Flora London Marathon on crutches in 13 days; he’s the first paraplegic ever to attempt to walk it. Last year, he rowed the English Channel solo, in just over 15 hours, and, recently, he climbed El Capitan mountain in

Yosemite National Park, a sheer rockface ascent of 3,000ft. It took him four days-most able-bodied people take between three and five days. Maj Packer has also devoted a huge amount of time to providing information on sports and events, both to disabled servicemen and the wider disabled community as a whole. Help for Heroes founder Bryn Parry recalls: ‘Phil came to my office and was determined to climb the stairs unaided. He taped his legs together and pulled himself up. We talked about his ambition to do the Marathon in a wheelchair and he told me that he intended to raise £1 million. I thought both were unlikely, but not only has he proved me wrong, he is also standing and walking. I am in total admiration.’