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NFFN NI: David Sandford wins joint Farm Woodland Award 2021 with Royal Forestry Society

NFFN steering group member, David Sandford, has jointly won the Royal Forestry Society’s Small & Farm Woodland Award 2021 which was open to entries from Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Wales.

David farms at Portloughan Farm in Strangford, Co.Down, and his 80ha of arable land with forestry is typically on rocky outcrops and steep slopes rising 300 metres above sea level.

David, previously the NI Chair of the NFFN NI, has a farming focus that centres on nature-friendly approaches. Along with his wife, Alison, the couple set out to undertake a comprehensive planting and woodland rejuvenation scheme around 25 years ago. They planted in difficult farming areas with funding from the NI Department of Agriculture’s Farm Woodland Planting Scheme.

David says: “With this particular planting, we decided to learn from all our previous mistakes and really plan properly for what we wanted to achieve. We wanted a warm wood, well-populated with shrubs and undergrowth, that would be a haven for wildlife and that could grow good timber to also have firewood from thinnings.”

“We surrounded the wood with a hedge to add to the aesthetic appeal and to keep the wood warm. It is also a fantastic source of food & nesting for small birds – comprising hawthorn, guelder rose, rosa rugosa, privet and blackthorn. We left a strip in the centre unplanted to provide open space and sunlight, which makes the perfect conditions for native wildlife.”

The judges of the Small & Farm Woodland Award were impressed by how David has shared the benefits of their farm’s forestry with a wider audience, including giving evidence to a Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly and becoming a Farm Habitat demonstration farm to showcase what can be achieved through agri-environment schemes. Previously, David was the Purdey Gold Award Winner 2016 and the Northern Ireland Wildlife Farmer of the Year 2016.

David says: “We are delighted to win this award and to be acknowledged for the hard work that went into establishing this woodland on our farm. Being a RFS member for 15 years, the society has been a great source of information and advice, which has furthered my knowledge at every step and made this woodland possible.”

Impressively, David has created at home for resident barn owls to nest, an endangered species in Northern Ireland, and he credits this to his mixed species woodland which provides suitable habitat for diverse species and helps barn owls to thrive.

David says: “The right tree in the right place is important when it comes to tree planting. If you plant the wrong tree in an unsuitable environment, you could have a negative knock-on effect to existing biodiversity. It’s important that any farmers planning woodland get advice from people who have done it before, so they get the right desired outcome that is fit for purpose.”

If you are passionate about farming with nature, become a free NFFN member or contact Jonathan at to hear more about our upcoming plans in Northern Ireland.