Conservation was high on the agenda on the opening day of the Royal Norfolk Show with bees and the rare English partridge reaping much of the benefits.
Environment secretary and South-West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss chose the show to announce a £900 million scheme to protect the countryside.
And there were accolades for landowners and farmers who are doing their bit to bring the grey partridge back from the brink of extinction.
These were just two highlights of a scorcher of a day at the showground which saw temperatures top 30 degrees Celsius.
Ice cream and sun hat sales soared, first aiders were kept busy treating people suffering in the heat and there were reports of at least three people being taken to hospital.
Elizabeth Truss’s announcement put the show in the national spotlight. Speaking from the Norfolk Beekeepers’ Association stand, she said that over the next five years the new £900 million Countryside Stewardship scheme will offer grants to help improve the environment and countryside – with £85 million set aside to support projects in 2016, including those that improve pollen and nectar sources.
Bees and pollinators are one of four main priorities for the scheme, which is being run on a competitive basis for the first time this year.
Applications will be ranked and money only awarded to those who will make the biggest improvements in their local area. Extra points will be given to agreements working to support bees and pollinators and other farm wildlife.
Work could include year-round food, shelter and nesting places that wild pollinators, birds and other farm wildlife need to survive and thrive; sowing nectar flower and winter bird food mixes; or increasing flower resources on grassland and on field margins and managing hedgerows.
Ms Truss said: “This is the first ever countryside stewardship scheme that specifically combines help for bees and pollinators as well as wildlife, woodland and rivers. This will mean more margins and meadows with colourful wildflowers in our countryside. Productive farming goes hand in hand with improving the environment.”
She was shown round the beekeepers’ stand and chatted to members. Clive Wakes-Miller, who keep bees at Snettisham, Heacham and Ringstead, also took the opportunity to tell her about his concerns of neurological damage being caused to the insects by insecticides.
Earlier in the day three West Norfolk farming operations were finalists for the coveted Mills and Reeve silver partridge award for helping to protect and improve numbers of grey partridge.
The trophy, created by Lynn silversmith Tim Clayton, went to Tid Morton and his son-in-law Nick Walton who farm 700 acres at Bagthorpe Hall, near Docking. The other finalists were Holme Hale estate and James Wilson’s Warren Farm, Ingoldisthorpe.
Mills and Reeve’s senior partner Justin Ripman said: “2014 appears to have been the beginning of a recovery from the terrible years of 2012 and 2013, the former having been the worst year for wild game birds since 1933. Numbers are not at anything like 2011 levels but in many cases they have improved slightly on last year. In Norfolk the numbers of pairs were up eight per cent on last year and densities are up ten per cent. Hopefully the current weather will further improve the chances for young broods this year.
He said: “At Bagthorpe, part of the land is farmed organically and part conventionally. This has enabled huge habitat diversification which has been rewarded by an increase in grey partridge numbers. Over the ten years of judging the award, it is surprising how rarely the judges actually see broods on their visits and so when touring Bagthorpe a couple of weeks ago it was fantastic to see a pair with a brood of 15-20 chicks out on one of the field margins”.
Tid and Nick told the Lynn News they were delighted to win at their first attempt. They said they counted 35 pairs on the farm this spring compared with 27 last year which was encouraging. And they said that it was rewarding to know that their efforts to help the partridge also helps other species including oystercatchers, lapwings and shell duck.
There was also plenty of West Norfolk influence out and about on the showground with exhibitors from this side of the county taking a share of the awards in the livestock classes which included heavy and light horses and ponies, donkeys, pigs, goats, sheep and some of the finest cattle in the country.
Among winners in the sheep classes were Iain and Laura Stephen, from Home Farm, Wretton Road, Stoke Ferry. One of the ewes from their Wretton Norfolk Horns herd went home as reserve female breed champion and overall reserve champion.
A delighted Laura, who is a vet, said: “We love this show. We treat it as a holiday and it is even better when we win.”
Members from Young Farmers’ Clubs at Terrington St Clement, Downham and a new Swaffham branch had created displays to promote their organisations.
Pupils from two West Norfolk schools proudly displayed the projects which made them winners in the county Food and Farming Challenge. Both had gone before judges at Easton College a few days before the show.
Year five of Redgate School, Hunstanton, had won the primary schools section for their project on sustainable fishing which they had completed with input from Trues Yard Museum, Lynn and the Sealife Centre, Hunstanton.
Year nine business studies students at the Iceni Academy, Methwold, won the secondary schools section with a marketing exercise carried out on behalf of Larchwood Foods, Fincham. The youngsters promoted its infused flavoured cooking oils and had already managed to get it on the shelves at several outlets, with Morrisions and Waitrose showing a keen interest.
West Norfolk farriers braved the heat of the weather and their forges in a new farriery competition which ran over the two days and attracted competitors from all over the country.
And Church Farm, Stow Bardolph, had the punters cheering with its exciting piglet racing in the countryside area.
Many local firms, from car dealerships to farm machinery dealers were among the hundreds of trade stands on the site.
By the time the show closes tomorrow afternoon, organisers hope attendance figures will be close to 100,000 over the two days.