A major grouse moor in County Durham, an organic farm in Yorkshire and a Wildfowlers Association in Lancashire have emerged as the top three winners at the 2012 Purdey Awards for Game and Conservation.

Since August, Purdey Awards judges have been visiting shortlisted entrants throughout the UK to assess the most worthy winners. Their decision was announced at the Awards presentations held in Purdey’s historic Long Room in central London on 22 November.

The Gold Award was taken by the Weardale Estate in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, with an entry described as “outstanding, and a most worthy winner”. The Purdey Awards Shield, a cheque for £4,000 and a Jeroboam of Laurent-Perrier Champagne were presented to owner Michael Stone in recognition of his work in heather moorland restoration, progressively enlarging and improving Weardale to the point where it is regarded by Natural England as a “model of best practice for grouse moor management”.

In 1984 Michael Stone, well known in the City of London as the former CEO, and latterly chairman, of ED & F Man, bought 4,300 acres of land from the Forestry Commission, comprising 900 acres of commercial forestry and 3,400 acres of grouse moor. Together with Weardale’s head keeper Nick Walmsley, he then embarked on a long-term moorland improvement project which today, almost 30 years on, sees Weardale regarded as one of the finest driven grouse moors in the country.

The estate has grown to cover almost 15,000 acres, and their project has coped with many natural obstacles including altitude, climate, vermin and the clearing of 900 acres of mature conifer plantations to return to heather moor. This large-scale conservation work has not only brought about a dramatic increase in red grouse populations, but has benefited many other wild bird species, including merlin, black grouse, golden plover, curlew, lapwing, grey partridge and woodcock. There has also been a significant return of red squirrels.

Awards Organiser Richard Purdey said: “Although the sheer scale of Weardale makes it our largest entry to date, Michael Stone and Nick Warmsley win gold not on size but for the outstanding quality of their moorland development strategy and its ensuing results. Weardale has set new standards in grouse moor management.”

The Silver Award and a cheque for £3,000 were presented to Pollybell Organic Farm near Doncaster in South Yorkshire. Owner Nigel Brown and gamekeeper Miles Bentley were cited for their “tremendous work in organic farming, coupled with outstanding wild game and habitat management”.

The Brown family acquired the 5,000-acre estate 18 years ago, of which 80% is now fully certified as organic, and with diligent keepering and skilful habitat management, has developed what is now a successful wild grey partridge conservation project and shoot.

The Purdey Bronze Award was presented to the Westmorland Wildfowlers Association, based near Carnforth, Lancashire. Lord Douro said the Association was being recognised for its success in encouraging and training younger members, as well as for promoting and practising exemplary shooting and conservation policies.