Thursday, 18 October 2018

LOUTH AREA GROUP OCTOBER CHAIRMAN’S JOTTINGS


SPEAKER MEETING 26 OCTOBER
We start our programme of speaker meetings at 1930hrs on Friday 26 October in the Nichol Hill Methodist Church, Louth. Dr Vin Fleming from the Nature Conservation Committee will tell us about Earthstars, Brittle Gills and Puddockstools. These are not witches who might be around at Halloween; they are the names of fungi that can be found during the Autumn.
The entry fee, including refreshments, remains at £2.50 whilst children are welcome and have free entry.
 
THE INFORMATION COFFEE MORNING SATURDAY 10 NOVEMBER
Our annual fund-raising event will take place at the ConocoPhillips Room in Louth between 1000hrs and noon on Saturday 10 November. There will be a chance to buy Wildlife Trust Christmas cards and calendars plus the opportunity to view presentations as well as having a coffee and a chat. LWT Warden James Forrester will have a collection of various woods to be found in Snipe Dales whilst Biff Vernon will show us some of the art work that was on display at the #200Fish exhibition.
There will be a Raffle! However, we do need prizes. If you are kind enough to donate a prize, please bring it along to the LAG indoor meeting on 26 October or let me know onlag2104rww@aol.com and I will arrange to collect it.
 
ASSISTANCE REQUIRED ‘LAPWINGS’ DELIVERY LOUTH
A volunteer is required to deliver 18 copies of the Lapwings magazine three times a year in the Ramsgate/ Eastgate area. Please contact Louise Scott on ryndle38@hotmail.com if you can help.
 
 ‘THE LOST WORDS’ SUCCESS
You may remember that last month I provided information about the splendid, ‘Lost Words’ book that was being delivered to all state schools in Lincolnshire. Three of us were pleased to deliver 18 of these books to schools within the LAG area where they were very well received.
Best wishes
Ray Woodcock Chairman Louth Area Group

Sunday, 7 October 2018

LOUTH AREA GROUP VISIT TO LWT RESERVE WOODHALL SPA 30 SEPTEMBER


The first day of wintry weather did not deter over 30 people from many sources coming along to be enthralled by LWT Warden Kevin James as he described how the land went from farmland in 1941 to an RAF airfield. The base was the home of many Lancaster bomber squadrons including 617 – the Dambusters. We stood by the recently constructed war memorial which commemorates the 458 men who did not return home. I think that we were all saddened by the loss of life and some people were rather surprised to be reminded that most of these men would have been under 23.

Post-war the airfield eventually became a sand and gravel extraction site and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust bought the premises a few years ago. When the contractors left they took their pumps with them so what appeared to be sandy heathland rapidly became wetland and reed beds.

Kevin and his team of volunteers from the Horncastle Area Group assisted occasionally by contractors have a long and short-term programme to manage the site to make it look ‘natural’. Their efforts have been rewarded as wild fauna and flora slowly populates the area. One long-time, unwelcome insurgent is the Piri-piri burr which is native to New Zealand. It colonises ground very quickly and its burrs become entangled around insects and the feet of birds. The plant came to the airfield on the knapsacks of RNZAF personnel in 1944!

Our enthusiastic guide has a many facetted role. He tends a flock of black Hebridean sheep and a small herd of Lincoln Red cattle. He uses hydraulic engineering knowledge to manage the water levels to control the reeds, as well as having the overall management of this and other sites.

We did see a dozen or so species of birds including Egyptian geese and a tree full of Cormorants.
However, bird watching was not on list on Sunday. Nevertheless, the two large lakes are a haven for wild fowl and passage migrants. I shall be returning in the Winter months to spend some time in the hide. Contact me on lag2014rww@aol.com  if you would like to come along.  Ray Woodcock

Thursday, 20 September 2018

LAG CHAIRMAN’S JOTTINGS SEPTEMBER 2018


Our Autumn field trip will be to the LWT Reserve Woodhall Spa Airfield on Sunday 30 September where LWT Warden Kevin James will give us a guided tour. We will meet at 1000hrs at the main gates on the B1192 Tattershall Road through Woodhall Spa town. The nearest post code is LN4 4JT and the OS Map reference is TF 206608.
We shall be on site for about 2 hours, there are no loos once you leave Woodhall Spa. For the most part the going is flat along the old main runway where wheel chairs can have a good run.
There will be lots to see so bring your telescopes and binoculars as well as your fauna and flora ID guides.

Work parties will take place from 0930hrs at Rigsby Wood on 14 October and on 28 October at Swinn Wood.

INFORMATION COFFEE MORNING SATURDAY 10 NOVEMBER
EARLY WARNING AND SEASONAL SCROUNGING
Our annual fund-raising event will take place at the ConocoPhillips Room in Louth between 1000hrs and noon on Saturday 10 November. There will be a chance to buy Wildlife Trust Christmas cards and calendars plus the opportunity to view displays as well as having a coffee and a chat.
We shall have a Raffle! However, we do need prizes. If you are kind enough to donate a prize, please bring it along to the LAG indoor meeting on 26 October or let me know on lag2104rww@aol.com and I will arrange to collect it.
‘THE LOST WORDS’ – A REMINDER
Since 2010 common countryside words like acorn, wren, kingfisher and conker started to disappear from children's books. Earlier in the year the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust set up 'Crowdfunder' campaign to raise £5,000 to help bring these lost words back to life. In fact, you may well have contributed to the campaign. It was intended to buy every primary, junior and special school in Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North-East Lincolnshire a copy of a wonderful book.
SUCCESS AND HELP
You may be aware that the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has been successful in reaching its fundraising target. But, the fundraising target didn't include funds to cover the costs of postage. Now comes the task of delivering the books to the schools!
Members of the Louth Area Group have arranged to deliver books to several schools in the area. However, those listed below still need to be visited. If you have an affinity with any of these schools, you may care to deliver a copy of the book to ‘your school’. Please let me know the name of the school by 25 September on lag2014rww@aol.com and I will let you have more details.

Best wishes
Ray Woodcock                Chairman Louth Area group

Louth Kidgate Primary Academy
North Cockerington Church of England Primary School
Louth Lacey Gardens Junior School
North Somercotes Church of England Primary School
Louth St Bernard's School
North Somercotes, Somercotes Academy
Louth Academy
Fulstow Community Primary School
Louth Cordeaux Academy
Utterby Primary Academy
Grainthorpe Primary School
Legbourne East Wold Church of England Primary School
Grimoldby Primary School
Donnington-on-Bain School
Scamblesby Church of England Primary School


Report on Watch Group Treasure Hunt in Hubbard's Hills 16-9-18




After a short shower early in the afternoon the day became warm and sunny.
Prior to families arriving, the Treasure Hunt clues were laid as a trail through Hubbard's Hills.
They were discreetly tied to trees, bushes, benches etc
Each family was given a sheet of instructions. They were sent off to find each clue and to answer the natural history question at that site. There were twenty clues to find, spread throughout the Hills. All the questions had multi choice answers and ranged from being very simple to more challenging.
When the families had found and completed the questionnaire, they were able to compare their replies with the answer sheet.
Each child (twenty in all) was then able to chose some 'treasure', an animal eraser pencil or a packet of glittery stickers.
All the families seemed to enjoy the Treasure Hunt.
Thanks  are due to Louise who compiled the clues and questions and also hid them in the Hills.




Saturday, 21 July 2018

LAG CHAIRMAN’S JOTTINGS JULY 2018


Louth Area Group Field Trip Sunday 29 July 2018
We meet at LWT Red Hill Reserve car park at 1400hrs on Sunday 29 July for a guided walk around this extensive reserve. Our guide will be LWT Conservation Officer Mark Schofield.
As most of you know the reserve is North east of Goulceby, nearest postcode LN11 9UE with
OS Map Reference TF 264 806.
The ground is very hard, there are some steep paths and a stile to climb – not good for a new knee. Just to cheer you up further the biting bugs love exposed flesh and ticks may crawl up your trouser legs. So, tuck your trousers in your socks and use some insect repellent. 
Jane and I visited the site on Wednesday – it was very dry, but there was colour amongst the long grasses from the Marjoram and Scabious flowers and the views over the Wolds were spectacular.
 
The Summer edition of the LWT Lapwings magazine is on its way to you together with the LAG Newsletter. In the latter I have given a report on the St James’ spire Peregrines. I have more recent news from Geoff Mullet who told me that, ‘As last year, one of the three fledglings was unable to fly – reason unknown. So, it has been taken to the raptor rescue centre in Worksop, where it is being examined by their vet. I received a text from them this morning, but only to confirm that the bird is still unable to fly but has a good appetite! I’ve asked them to let me know if it’s the same ‘angel wing’ problem as the one last year as apparently, it’s hereditary, or if it’s some other problem.
 
Our three hedgehogs have been joined by a much smaller one – is it a new born? We don’t think it is the offspring of the large male who bullies all the others with much snuffling. Last night at 0333hrs we were fascinated to see on the camera the scenario of a hedgehog feeding from a dish with our friendly vixen lapping from the water bowl; both being watched from across the lawn by one of the five cats that regularly pass through the garden.
 
The camera also picks up bats and moths as blurs on the screen. We see the bats around the house in the late evening but not the moths. At the beginning of the month we borrowed a moth trap and were delighted and surprised by the numbers of species present. From the large red Elephant hawk moth to the tiny micro moths. To help us identify some of these creatures we went to a Moth Morning organised by the Spirit of Sutterby group where the North Lincs Moth recorder, Colin Smith, identified 40 species found in 3 moth traps and told us how to identify 32 species of common micro-moths. Luckily for us he provided an identification chart!
 
Please remember to leave water out at night for your nocturnal visitors as well as by day for the birds.
 
Best wishes
Ray Woodcock 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Louth Watch Group Meeting

Louth Watch Group of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

We are holding a joint meeting with the Rimac Watch Group on Sunday July 15th at Crook Bank, near Theddlethorpe.

We will be using push-nets in the sea to find sea creatures such as pipefish, isopods,flatfish, brown shrimps, hermit crabs & sea gooseberries.

The meeting will start at 2pm. and is free

Children must be accompanied by an adult.

It is essential that everyone going in the sea should wear wellies or water shoes to protect against Weever fish stings.

Weever fish bury themselves in the sand with their dorsal fin sticking up. The dorsal fin releases a poison which gives an extremely painful sting to anyone treading on the buried fish and will result in a trip to hospital.

We will meet at Crook Bank car park. Postcode LN12 1NP, MR: TF 489883

I have attached a map with directions to Crook Bank.

We hope to see you then

Avril

Monday, 25 June 2018

LAG VISIT TO GOSLINGS CORNER WOOD 22 JUNE 2018



A GENTLE STROLL AMONG THE ORCHIDS ON A BEAUTIFUL SUMMER’S EVENING




A dozen cars managed to squeeze in to the car park at the edge of Goslings Corner Wood and 23 of us sprayed ourselves with insect repellent whilst we listened to an initial briefing from LWT Warden Damien Carter. We learnt that this wood is one of the smaller Lincolnshire oak/lime woods. The variety of soils in the reserve - ranging from neutral to acidic - produce the variety of flora. (See species list below.)



As we strolled around identifying the wild flowers Damien told us how the site was being managed. A series of coppice plots have been created off the main rides. The oldest plot at the southern end of the main ride was cut in the winter of 1989/90 and the last one in this present series is due to be completed in about 2045. In some areas new tree growth is being encouraged to restrict light reaching the ground to reduce the amount of grass growth. In another area the grass is left to enable the natural development of saplings which in turn will create fresh woodland. In a further area some larger trees are to be felled and coppiced. This work will be carried out by a contractor who also processes the timber for use as firewood and charcoal. A large meadow in the centre is harvested for hay twice a year. Sadly for us, it had just been cut so the wonderful field that had recently been full of yellow Meadow buttercups looked very bare.
The sunshine disappeared as we left the grassy paths and entered the woodland. Consequently, there was an abrupt change in the ground flora. Dog’s mercury was in profusion and we saw many Common spotted orchids. Wetter ground was indicated by Marsh thistles and Water avens.
The only birds that we saw were a couple of Wood pigeons and a Magpie although some people heard a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff and Peacocks!
Many thanks to Damien for his guidance and to Volunteer Reserve Warden Eric Sergeant who manages the site on a day to day basis.RW

PLANT LIST
GOSLINGS CORNER WOOD 22 JUNE 2018
LAG 1800-2000hrs
Small leaved lime
Cocksfoot grass
Oak
Foxtail grass
Birch
Rough meadow grass
Field maple
Timothy grass
Hawthorn
Crested dog's tail
Elder
Meadow foxtail
Crab apple
Yorkshire fog
White beam
Rough meadow grass
Hogweed
Wood melick grass
Alder
Rye grass
Meadow buttercup
Red fescue grass
Creeping buttercup
Pendulous sedge
Common vetch
Speedwell
Marsh thistle
Dandelion
Spear thistle
Ribwort plantain
Curled dock
Ramsons
Common sedge
Common spotted orchid
Lesser stitchwort
Water avens
White clover
Broad leaved willow herb
Pignut
Heath spotted orchid
Bramble
Meadow cranesbill
Stinging nettle
Hedge woundwort
Dog's mercury
Bugle
Cleavers
Ragged robin
Common sedge
Creeping-Jenny
Compact rush
Tormentil
Lady's smock
Great tussock sedge 
Prickly ox-tongue
Remote sedge
Yellow rattle
Fen bedstraw
Figwort
Hemp agrimony
Nipplewort
Marsh stitchwort
Marsh thistle
Spear thistle
Yellow vetchling
Ragged robin
Tufted vetch
Bush vetch



Thursday, 14 June 2018

LWT LOUTH AREA GROUP CHAIRMAN’S JOTTINGS JUNE 2018


Our next field outing will be to LWT Reserve Goslings Corner Wood at 1800hrs on Friday 22 June. Meet at the Hoop Lane car park GR TF 144753. Damian Carter, the LWT site manager, will show us around.
From the B1202 Wragby to Bardney road take the left turning down Hoop Lane signed ‘Chambers Farm Wood’ and carry on down the lane past the right turn that leads to ‘Chambers Farm Wood’. There is a small car park just inside the gate marking Goslings Corner Wood and cars may be parked on the road. There are no toilet facilities on site.
Jane and I went there for the first time last week and recorded over 40 wild flower species including Water avens and orchids. The mile-long, grassy path had just been mown and a few Blackbirds were very busy picking out bugs and seeds from the sweet-smelling cut grass. However, the path was a bit lumpy whilst Jane was joined by some biting insects. So, boots and mosquito spray may be a good idea.
We re-visited the Middlemarsh site near to Croft on Monday 11 June for the first time for a couple of years. The old, dilapidated hide has been taken away and the area fenced to enable easy access to the large hide which is reached by a grassy path. If you want a noisy couple of hours go soon. There are Black-headed gulls with chicks of all sizes, Herring gull families, Greylag goslings and little black balls of fluff masquerading as Moor hen chicks as well as Tufted ducks, Avocets, Oystercatchers and a few waders.
Later in the day we saw Avocets on nests at Gibraltar Point but no chicks. As always there was a cacophony of Black-headed gulls on the small islands in front of the hides and inevitably we were told that, ‘there were Spoonbills here yesterday’.
Ray Woodcock Chairman LAG

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Watch Group Meeting

Our May meeting is on Sunday 13th May at 2pm at the Lincolnshire Rural Activities Centre , Kenwick, just outside Louth.  LN11 8NR
At the start of the afternoon we would like the children to collect insects and greenery in the garden area.  They can take the specimens collected into the LRAC classroom to look at under our new digital microscope, donated by Louth Lions. 
We will  walk together to visit the replica Iron Age round house in the grounds to see how people lived 2,000 years ago.
We can discuss how it was built and think about the animals that may have lived in the area during the Iron Age.
We will then sit in the new camping area to draw pictures etc.
From there we can continue a nature walk round the site before going back to the car park.
It is an opportunity to visit a beautiful area just outside Louth.
Please meet in the car park. Use the shared entrance with Kenwick Park Hotel, but continue straight on and turn right after the overflow car park.
Children must be accompanied by an adult.  The event is free.



Wednesday, 18 April 2018

CHAIRMAN’S JOTTINGS APRIL 2018


At last we are seeing the sunshine. The buds on the two fruit trees in our garden have been waiting for so long that they are only just beginning to show green shoots. These trees are usually beginning to bloom by now and are being pollinated by bees and other insects. I hope the cold, wet weather has not had too much of an effect by delaying the blossom time which means that there will be fewer insect larvae to sustain the baby birds.
However, two and sometimes three the hedgehogs are still visiting the food in our garden each night. Two are males; one is a big bully who pushes the smaller male out of the feeding area! Nevertheless, the latter perseveres and sneaks back on his own.
 
I have been informed that there are now 3 eggs in the Peregrine’s nest on the spire of St James’ Church.
 
Has anyone seen a Swallow, heard a Cuckoo or noticed a Cuckoo flower (Lady’s smock) in bloom yet?
 
The Annual General Meeting of the Louth Area Group followed by a picture quiz, a raffle and coffee and cakes will be at 7.30 pm on Friday 27 April at the Nichol Hill Methodist Church Louth. All are welcome. I am delighted to report that we have nominations for a full committee and enough prizes for the raffle.
This meeting will be the last occasion when you will be able to buy the books that were donated to the group by the family of the late Joyce Robinson. Any remaining volumes will go to the Louth Museum for sale at book fairs. Thanks to your generosity an amount of about £200 has been raised from the sale of the books at LAG meetings.
 
Ray Woodcock Chairman Louth Area Group LWT

Wildflower Project with Spout Yard Trustees 4th April 2018





Despite the very damp cold weather, 13 children met in Spout Yard to transplant some of the cowslip seedlings into pots. They had been sown last September, but were still very small. The children took the pots home to look after.
They then sowed wildflower seeds in the five small circles that had been prepared in the park near the river. The seed mixture, 3g/sqm and the sand to mix with them, was supplied by Spout Yard Trustees.
The seed mixture contained 24 species of wildflowers.  A poster has been attached to the wall of the kiosk to help children identify the flowers as they grow.

Report on Visit to Hedgehog Care 15th April 2018




Eight children with their parents met at Hedgehog Care in Authorpe on Sunday 15th April.
Elaine Drewery of Hedgehog Care explained that she looks after hedgehogs that are brought to her when they are sick or injured.
We visited the 'hospital' area where we were able to look at the hedgehogs. Each was in a separate cage.  Tracey (a helper) told us about each hedgehog and why it was being looked after. She took one out of its cage so that the children could stroke it on the soft area near its head.
Tracey explained that most hedgehogs can be adopted once they are well, though not where there are badgers, as they kill hedgehogs. She showed us the special crates that have been made to transport them to their new homes.
The children also enjoyed exploring the garden area and were given a hedgehog questionnaire to take home.


Sunday, 25 March 2018

Talk about Snipe Dales


On Friday 23rd March 2018 
James Forrester, LWT Warden, gave a talk on 'The Management and Ecology of Snipedales'.

Snipe Dales is one of the few semi-natural wet valley systems still surviving in Lincolnshire. It is an area of two halves with mixed woodland in the Country Park and wet valleys, grassland and scrub in the nature reserve.



With almost 40,000 visitors per year, Snipe Dales Country Park and Nature Reserve is an attraction at the southern end of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The geology of patches of glacial deposits on the Spilsby Sandstone overlying Kimmeridge Clay creates an assemblage of dry acid grassland and very wet grassland. There is a plantation of 50 year old Corsican Pine, now much reduced by felling following an outbreak of Dothistroma Red Band Needle Blight (DNB) that began around 2005. Rapid natural regeneration of deciduous woodland has outstripped efforts at managed replanting.

James showed us the modern timber harvesting methods used and how some dead-wood had been left, standing or lying, to promote biodiversity. The land is  managed to maximise the variety of habitats and biodiversity is enhanced by seeding the grasslands by green-hay spreading, managing the light levels in the wooded areas to promote the under-storey, and controlling the natural scrub growth by cutting and light grazing with sheep and with Longhorn and Lincoln Red cattle.

The stream system has been naturalised by removal of some of the artificial dams and culverts, allowing the trout and other fish to migrate easily. Along with trout and Miller's Thumbs are found the curious brook lamprey Lampetra planeri. a primitive, jawless fish resembling an eel, but less than six inches long. It is a non-migratory freshwater species, occurring in streams of high water quality and clean gravel beds in which it lays its eggs.

The Country Park is remarkably rich in fungi, with over 300 species recorded. There are, consequently, a great number of fungus gnats, some 120 species of which have been recorded here. If you are not sure just what a fungus gnat looks like, this web-page is useful.

Snipe Dales is described as 'semi-natural', but it is evident that, left to nature, the landscape would very quickly become a dense deciduous woodland, rapidly invaded with birch and hawthorn and, in the wetter areas, alder, with slower growing trees taking their place in the succession over time. But then in Britain before the Mesolithic, the megafauna of large herbivores would have done something equivalent to the work of James, his many volunteers who give up their time to help in scrub clearance and grassland management and the cattle. With no mammoths available, the chainsaw and tractor have their place in wildlife conservation.

For more information about Snipe Dales see the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust website.



Thursday, 15 March 2018

LAG CHAIRMAN’S JOTTINGS MARCH 2018


What a month for weather – snow drifts were still in the Wolds a week ago and the rivers are flowing fast. Water is lying in the fields and our garden has the texture of a marsh. Starfish and razor shells carpet the beaches and poor old Cleethorpes has sand in too many places. Woodcock galore have been seen at Gibraltar Point whilst Nicole sent me a picture of one in her garden at North Thoresby.  But the early spring flowers are coming out in profusion, let’s hope they survive the snow and cold weather forecasted for this weekend.
Unfortunately, this Woodcock has been virtually housebound since early February, so he has not been able to clear the snow or to get to exposed places to see the variety of species swept in with the extreme weather. Nevertheless, he has handed in his crutches and looks forward to being on the move very soon.

MARCH MEETING
Our next local meeting will be at 7.30 pm at the Nichol Hill Methodist Church Louth on Friday 23 March when LWT Warden James Forrester will tell us about the ‘The Management of Snipe Dales Nature Reserve.’ Entrance, including refreshments is £2.50. Children are welcome and are not charged.

UPDATE
The books presented to the group by Chris Robinson from his late mother Joyce's bookshelf have raised £190 for the LWT to date. Thank you for your interest and generosity and to Biff Vernon who is managing the sales. The remaining books will be on sale at the March meeting and at the April AGM.

AGM
The Annual General Meeting of Louth Area Group members will be held at Nichol Hill Church, Louth on Friday 27 April 2018 at 7.30 pm. Please note that, in accordance with the Constitution, all Committee members and Officers stand down at each AGM.  Chairman Ray Woodcock and Secretary Biff Vernon and Treasurer Rod Baddon are willing to be re-elected, as are current committee members: Colin Byatt, Avril Huke, Louise Scott, Judith John, Andy Goy and co-opted member Chris Henderson. If these members are re-elected, we will have a good representation to enable our group’s programme and other events to continue successfully.
However, if you wish to join the committee and make a commitment to carry out specific duties and attend as many of the meetings as possible please contact Ray Woodcock on lag2014rww@aol.com to discuss the role and to obtain a nomination form.
Although the entrance is free I hope that you will buy some raffle tickets. The relatively short AGM will be followed by a quiz (bring a pencil) and the raffle together with coffee/tea and cake.

Best wishes
Ray Woodcock Chairman Louth Area Group LWT

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Talk by Nick Watts of Vine Farm - February 2018

February's talk at the Louth Area Group of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, was given by Nicholas Watts, MBE.  Nick has farmed at Vine House Farm, near Spalding, since 1964, where he has been one of those all to rare creatures, a farmer who is also a serious conservationist with a passion for wildlife. 

Many years ago Nick realised that key to maintaining a flourishing bird population on his land was their food supply and when visitors saw the abundance of birds around his farmyard where he had scattered grain and asked if they could buy some birdseed from him, Nick put two and two together and created a new direction for the farm business. A significant part of Vine Farm now revolves around the growing ans selling of grains and seeds for bird food.

Nick showed us how many of the changes in farming practice over the past half century have conspired to produce an environment much less favourable to many bird species. This area of the fenland is almost entirely devoted to arable crops, but decades ago mixed farming was the rule with most farms having some cattle, pigs and poultry, housed in old buildings that provided nest sites and opportunities for birds to reach grain stores and wet areas where insects could breed. Away from the farmyard, changing cropping patterns have meant less food and nesting opportunities in the fields. The use of agrochemicals, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and growth regulators have conspired to produce an environment hostile to the whole food web on which all birds depend, but those that eat insects are particularly hard hit. Even many of the birds we see eating seeds on our feeders, need insects to feed to their young in the spring. There are some winners, the herbivorous wood pigeon and the magpie that lives off roadkill.

Nick demonstrated how, often quite simple, things he has done on his farm have had a big impact, yet have fitted into the farm's need to operate commercially. Subsidies through the Stewardship scheme have allowed wildflower strips to be planted around field margins. Skylark plots, uncultivated squares within cereal fields to allow safe nesting, may help the birds but provide the farm with an income slightly greater than the value of the crop foregone! Nick has had ancient brick barns repaired, for the benefit of nesting barn owls, with help from money from the wind-farm. He has built brick tower nest-boxes for owls and other birds and his numerous nest-boxes near a pond have had a phenomenal positive impact on the tree-sparrow population. Nick has influenced the drainage board to manage dyke banks in a way that is better for wildlife and is cheaper. A win-win!



Of course buying bird seed helps the business, but Nick's case that improving the food supply is key to maintaining flourishing bird populations is unanswerable.  Asked whether he was optimistic about the future, Nick pointed out that, whatever their views, only a very small proportion of the country's population actively engage in conservation work, and farmers are no different. The vast majority of farms are not operated in a way that prioritises wildlife, so he is pessimistic about future prospects.

Vine House Farm has a wonderfully informative website. If you are not shopping, skip past the opportunities to buy the bird food and read about the history of the farm, what has been done to enhance the habitats and learn about how large scale cereal farming on a commercial fenland farm can operate alongside a thriving bird population.