Nicky Murphy is a lifelong farmer from Johnswell County Kilkenny. He manages a conventional dairy farm milking 70 cows. There is some dry and some very wet grassland on the farm. Nicky grows about 10 acres of corn every year which supplements winter feeding for the animals. There is a piggery on the farm which is run by his brother, and the pig and cattle slurry generated on the farm fertilizes most of the land thus reducing the use of artificial nitrogen to a minimum. There is about 30 acres of mixed forestry on the land.
Nicky would have farmed conventionally for most of his life, never taking too much notice of the wildlife that inhabited the farm. Three years ago, however, he discovered a pair of breeding barn owls in an old beech tree, and this awakened in him and his family a tremendous curiosity and passion for wildlife and biodiversity on the land. This brought Nicky down a new path, one which he never would have imagined himself travelling - "As you become more tuned in to the sounds of nature, you being to observe more and more wildlife on the farm." He has eliminated the use of rat poison on the farm. He has made numerous nest boxes for the barn owls and other birds and placed them around the farm. He has continuously planted trees all around the farm and has re-incorporated hedgerows where they had been removed some years ago. Nicky fences off field corners allowing them to grow wild and provide food and habitat for insects and birds. Parts of the farm are fenced off and left purely for biodiversity. Nicky is proud of the simple changes he has made to protect wildlife on the land, without compromising the productivity of his family farm.
Nicky is a true advocate for nature, on his farm and in his community. He manages a family run dairy farm near Johnswell in County Kilkenny and his growing knowledge and enthusiasm for the wildlife which inhabit and visit his farm is immediately obvious and infectious. It is fair to say that this wasn’t always the case, as Nicky himself freely admits that he is a ‘convert’ – although Nicky now has a great appreciation of biodiversity on his farm and in his area, this awareness of the natural world around him was greatly advanced by the arrival of a pair of Barn Owls on his land three years ago. The Barn Owls nested in a hollow Beech tree directly in front of the family house – this provided for fascinating and addictive viewing through the front window at night-time during the lockdown periods, and also spawned an obsession with Nicky who has closely watched the owls ever since. Watching the owls so intently was a catalyst to opening Nickys eyes to other wildlife on his land. Nicky also started to rethink and change his approach to certain farming practices that were customary to him, but potentially harmful, and he now proudly states that he is ’rat poison free’ on his farm (which is a big change from just three years ago). Nicky has also made nest boxes, for the Barn Owls as well as other birds which have been placed carefully around the farm. Nicky’s passion for wildlife on his land is truly infectious and he provides a great example of how a simple experience can change perceptions and that it is never too late to make those changes. It is also clear that while Nicky’s passion for the owls came about in an organic and accidental way, that it has also benefited him, and instilled a sense of pride that he is the custodian of the land and ensuring the wildlife present are protected while also continuing to run a profitable farm.
Nominator: John Lusby, Conservation Officer, Birdwatch Ireland