A FARMER'S decision to return some of his land to nature has won him an award and the full support of conservation organisations, which have hailed his far-sightedness.

George Westgarth accepts that the rural way of life is changing and he has sold his pedigree cattle and sheep.

He said "The markets just do not seem to want them these days. There's still money to be made in pigs but not much interest in anything else."

But rather than leave the industry, Mr Westgarth has gone into partnership with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), who have advised him on the restoration of a wetland habitat that is attracting more than 100 species of birds.

It has taken two years for a lake to form on his land, to the south of the A66 Motel at Newsham, North Yorkshire, but it is already home to lapwings, golden plovers, snipe, redshank, oystercatchers and curlew, some of which have been threatened by modern farming methods.

The RSPB's Nick Mason said: "Although it also attracts more exotic migratory birds, the fantastic thing about this project is that it also gives some of these local species a chance to recover.

"With plans in the pipeline to develop the conservation work further, we really are excited about its potential. We cannot say just how much we appreciate Mr Westgarth's enthusiasm.''

The project, part-funded by the Government over ten years, was a runner-up in last year's Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Conservation Awards.

Future schemes will include setting aside additional land for wildlife conservation and the introduction of a hide for people to watch the birds.