AN organic farm received an early birthday present when it claimed the top honour at an environment awards.

Cross Lanes Organic Farm, which celebrates its first anniversary on October 27, won the Outstanding Award at last night’s County Durham Environment Awards.

The Barnard Castle business was shortlisted in four categories at the ceremony, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, in Durham City, and although it did not win any of the individual categories, it bagged the evening’s big award.

The outstanding award, sponsored by homes and community organisation livin, is not awarded every year. It is made at the judges’ discretion if an entry is deemed exceptional.

Wayne Harris, executive director of property and development for livin, said: “It is only now and again you come across a project which not only ticks all the boxes in three or four categories, but is also an exemplar in those.

“It is such an outstanding building. The project uses renewable energy, it uses rainwater harvesting, loads of traditional materials, and sells only locally-sourced organic produce.”

The honour caps an impressive first year’s trading for the farm shop and cafe, which is regarded as one of the greenest in Britain, boasting straw bale walls and housed under a roof of flower-rich meadow grass which provides roof-top grazing for three black Hebridean sheep.

The event, organised by the County Durham Environment Partnership and first staged in 1989, saw awards and commendations presented in categories to reward great design, environmental guardianship and community spirit.

This year’s ceremony included a new category of Volunteer Group of the Year, with awards presented to both Wheatley Hill Angling Club and the volunteer Countryside Rangers team run by Durham County Council.

Other honours went to the Durham World Heritage Site Visitor Centre, which won a built environment award for its sensitive £1.25m conversion of former almshouses in Owengate, Durham City.

In all, 26 projects were honoured, from a scheme to protect an ancient bogland on Waldridge Fell to an environmentally- friendly building to house Olympic standard rowing facilities in Durham City.

Terry Collins, chairman of the partnership, said: “The quality of the submissions this year was excellent and the judging panel really had their work cut out during the shortlisting and site visit stages.

“I’m really pleased that in their 23rd year the awards continue to attract a really diverse selection of entrants, from environmental professionals and specialists to residents and volunteer groups giving up their time to make improvements in their communities.”