About Us

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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

HGCA Monitor Farm

Farmer led knowledge exchange

November saw myself and the farm launched as a new Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) Monitor farm. This is new initiative set up and facilitated by the HGCA to promote and widen their involvement in British farming. They want to create and develop a new program to get farmers together to discuss current farming practice and issues, they wanted it to be farmer led on working farms to benefit all those who attend. It is a three year position and I was keen to get involved as the HGCA are one of the leading R & D funders in the industry and they have a wealth of people that we can bring to Suffolk to discuss our chosen topics on the the farm. 

As part of my role as being the host farmer we will be running another farming blog through the HGCA site. The link below will take you to all our event write ups, my farming thoughts and related topics.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Wild on a Wednesday

Barn Owls from a brood in a box this year
This Wednesday was my turn on the rota to be the guest on Lesley Dolphin's lunchtime show on BBC Radio Suffolk. We covered farming, Barn Owls, our HGCA launch and a few other topics and it always good to have the opportunity to promote what we do and taking our brand of farming and conservation to a wider audience. To hear my piece click on the link (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02bqy49) and go to 1 hour, 7 minutes. Also as part of the show Steve Piotrowski was on the sofa talking about the Barn Owl Project and many other aspects of his life. To hear that it is the same link but start at 2 hours 36 minutes.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Today's TV Filming

Steve with Felicity Simper from the BBC

The press release by the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project has really caught the imagination and following on from a terrific double page spread by John Grant in yesterday's East Anglian Daily Times. Today Steve Piotrowski and & I have filmed pieces for both BBC Look East and Anglia News. There is also going to be a feature on Newsround which is now on CBBC and I will put the link on this blog once it is broadcast.
Patrick being filmed by Tanya Mercer from ITV

We returned to the box on the meadow before filming and the last chick which was in the box had fledged and was nowhere to be seen. At Westhorpe this year we have had 2 pairs of Barn Owls, the first pair raised 7 chicks in 2 broods (4 then 3) and the second pair raised 3 chicks from their first brood but their 2nd brood was later by a month and the second brood failed. There was one chick which we had hoped would survive as there has been two adults present recently but the chick died in the box. Second broods are unusual and the fact that we have had 10 chicks fledge in Westhorpe is something that we are all very proud of. We hope that  over the winter the pairs will hold territory and breed again next year. For now we will graze the meadows with sheep to open the sward up to encourage the wild flowers next spring. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project Update

We are just pulling together all of the Barn Owl Project data for the 2014 breeding season and there is going to be quite a bit of press coverage due to the fact that it has been an extremely good breeding season and a chick that I ringed last year has been found as a breeding adult female in Leicestershire. All of the information is below and Steve Piotrowski and I had the opportunity to go out live on The BBC Radio Suffolk breakfast show this morning. To listen click here and go to 1 hour 25 mins.

2013’s poor breeding season
Following a disastrous year for barn owls in 2013, nest boxes this year have been bursting at the seams with chicks!  In spring 2013, barn owls struggled to cope with a relentless icy blast that decimated the number of short tailed voles their preferred prey, so barn owls were literally starving to death.  Mortality was then extremely high and reports of dead barn owls were reaching the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) of up to 19 per day.  These figures involved only ringed birds, so we were seeing just the tip of the iceberg with a significant proportion of the UK’s population perishing. 
The project's longest recorded movement so far...
Suffolk's furthest Travelling barn Owl on the Right
Since 2006, the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project has been responsible for monitoring specially-designed nest boxes and, by 2014, the number of boxes installed had reached 1700.  The 2013 severe weather resulted in only 261 boxes being occupied by barn owls and only 66 producing any chicks at all!  Most female barn owls failed to gain sufficient weight (340 grammes) to be in good enough condition to breed, so decided to skip a year.  However, from one of these boxes came a remarkable movement from Lea Farm, Great Ashfield, near Stowmarket, to Muston in North Leicestershire, a total of 136 Km.  Project Area Coordinator and local farmer, Patrick Barker, ringed a brood of two chicks at the farm on 7th August 2013 and one of these (a female) was found incubating a clutch of eggs in a box in North Leicestershire this summer.  She raised three chicks in her newly adopted county.  Jim Lennon, of South Notts Ringing Group (who monitor boxes in North Leicestershire), said “This was the first time in five years that the box has been used; we had several instances of this. The female was not moulting when caught, and we checked for a second breeding attempt which did not happen in that box, but chicks seem to have got away okay.” Lea Farm, Great Ashfield is farmed by J. Miles and Sons and is a good example of careful grassland management.  Farm Worker, Paul Batchelor, is commitment to conservation on their farms and has created feeding and nesting opportunities for barn owls.
3 Barn Owl chicks that fledged from the same farm in 2012.
Barn owl chicks are forced out from their nuptial home in early autumn and they have to find partners and then set up territories of their own.  However, they tend not to move far, normally no further than six kilometres and often following the course of a river valley, so this movement is quite remarkable.  Along with Suffolk, North Leicestershire and South Nottinghamshire are barn owl hotspots, so it’s conceivable that our Suffolk barn owl wandered off in a north-westerly direction until she found good feeding habitat vacated by barn owls that had succumbed to the severe weather?

Barn Owls bounce back
Nature is remarkable in that it often stages dramatic recoveries and this year our barn owls have demonstrated their resilience to the extremes of our weather.   Provisional figures for 2014 show that all records have been broken with 516 boxes being occupied by barn owls!  Of these 454 were found with eggs and 415 went on to produce chicks.  This total exceeds the county total of 350 breeding pairs recorded in 1938 and 444 occupied boxes in 2012.  The number of chicks in each brood was also at the highest since the project began with broods of seven being noted in many parishes.  In total, 862 chicks were ringed from over 1000 that were reared and, in addition, of the 56 adult barn owls handled, 34 were already carrying rings.

What do barn owls need?

To sustain good barn owl numbers there must be enough prey.  Short tailed voles need a particular type of habitat - rough, tussocky grass that they can move through in tunnels and that provides their own source of food and nesting habitat. This habitat, in close proximity to correctly positioned barn owl nest boxes, provides the ideal conditions for the owls to hunt.

Currently, much of the county’s grassland is ‘managed’ by too much grazing or frequent cutting. The project is committed to offer advice to provide the grassland that barn owls favour across the county – with the benefits extending well beyond barn owls and voles. This habitat is scarce and precious, it holds up entire ecosystems from diverse flora to many species of invertebrates that use it for overwintering.

Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project (SCBOP)

SCBOP is dedicated to the conservation of barn owls.  The principal partners are Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Suffolk Ornithologists Group and BTO, but a number of smaller independent projects also fall under the SCBOP umbrella including those administered by Dedham AONB, Stour Valley Project, Thornham Owl Project and Suffolk Owl Sanctuary.

The project as a whole has advised on the fixing of 1700 barn owl nest boxes across Suffolk, on nature reserves, farmland and on community spaces like village greens and school grounds.  By providing a connected network of good habitat and nesting opportunities we can give the barn owls the fighting chance they need to thrive.  The project involves the whole community and the boxes are made by local organisations and monitored by an army of expert volunteers each year.  The results are collated by the project recorder, Alec Hillier, who meticulously records and analyses the data for each box and provide an annual report.  This system of raising awareness, creating nesting opportunities and managing suitable nearby habitat is having a positive effect on barn owl populations across Suffolk.  This is a project that all Suffolk people can be truly proud of. 

In 2015, SCBOP will be 10 years old and there are plans to celebrate its success by holding a series of special events.  These will include a lecture tour by Project Manager, Steve Piotrowski, which will start at the Fisher Theatre, Bungay, on 21st January for Waveney River Trust.  The tour will take in a number of venues throughout Suffolk and finish at the Rutland Water Bird Fair on August 21st.  There will be an all-day workshop for barn owl enthusiasts at SWT’s Lackford Nature Reserve Centre on July 11th (please contact Leslie Walduck of SWT, Brooke House, Ashbocking, for further details) and celebrations will culminate in a fund-raising party at The Cut, Halesworth, with the audience being treated to a special lecture by Dr Colin Shawyer, UK’s leading authority on barn owl conservation and author of The Barn Owl, published by Arlequin Press in 1998.

Finally, some of the barn owl nest boxes are quite old and are showing signs of weathering.  To ensure that our barn owls keep their homes, Waveney Bird Club has set up a fund to help pay for repairs and in some cases replace dilapidated boxes.   Those wishing to contribute should make cheques payable to Waveney Bird Club and send to:  Steve Piotrowski, 96 Beccles Road, Bungay, Suffolk, NR35 1JA.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Derek Moore OBE 1943-2014

Derek with Patrick and Brian in 2009 
In the last post I paid tribute to Derek Moore who died following a long illness three weeks ago. Last week we made the 300+ mile trip to West Wales for his funeral and it was a very fitting send off for someone who had achieved so much in his life and was respected and loved by so many people. The humanist ceremony took place at Narberth Crematorium in Pembrokeshire and Tom, Ed and I were given the honour of escorting the coffin into the crematorium along with Derek's son, Jeremy. The four of us also were able to pay our own tribute to Derek by wearing a tie of his. In true naturalist style fashion went completely out of the window as the ties depicted a mixture of frogs, penguins and parrots. By our estimation there was at least 80 people in the crematorium and the same again on different viewing balconies.  The whole service was also streamed on the web so that Derek's grandchildren in Canada could watch as well.

Derek with Bill Oddie
The service consisted of six people giving personal tributes and recalling stories and memories of Derek. Bill Oddie was the first to speak followed by my father David, Iolo Williams, Shaun Thomas the current Director of Operations at the RSPB, the current Chief Executive of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Julian Roughton and was rounded off in style by Chris Packham. There was also a burst of dawn chorus and a copy of Derek's band Soul Concern playing in the early 1960s. All of the speakers spoke extremely well, from the heart and in very good humour and the very highest tribute is that three of the country's highest profile naturalists were prepared to clear their diaries and be there to pay their tribute and play their part in the day. In fact, Chris Packham had delayed a trip to The Gambia to be there.

There was a very strong contingent from Suffolk including the EADT's environment correspondent John Grant and his report on the day can be viewed (here). It includes some very kind words by Chris Packham about the farm as well. It was good to see many friends there all paying their respects to Derek and one in particular, Lucy McRobert has written a blog about Derek for The Wildlife Trusts which can be read (here).

As we came out of the crematorium there was a break in the Welsh weather and the sun came out creating a rainbow right over us. It was certainly a service and a day that I will never forget and along with David Tomlinson we shared may more stories about Derek all the way home.
The Barker Family in Wales under the Derek Moore rainbow.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

An Award Won and a tribute to Derek Moore

On Wednesday evening we attended the Suffolk FWAG annual presentation evening and all had a very enjoyable evening. We had entered the Tim Sloane award which was judged during the summer. This is an award presented in memory of Tim Sloane who was a leading light in Suffolk conservation and the award has been presented annually since his passing 7 years ago. Each year the topic changes and in the past has been for traditional orchards, grazing marshes and woodland management and this year the topic was farmland ponds. At both our Westhorpe and Great Ashfield farms we have worked hard to restore ponds for the benefit of aquatic wildlife in general but at Great Ashfield more specifically for the expansion of our breeding colony of Great Crested Newts.

The judges were Gen Broad from the Suffolk Biodiversity Partnership and Richard Symes, a conservation minded farmer from Bramfield and we were very proud to win the award and be presented with the (very heavy) bronze cast life-sized brown hare trophy.

It was great to see 80+ people at a FWAG event and to see Suffolk FWAG in such a healthy position given the upheaval of the previous couple of years. The guest speaker for the evening was Robin Page with his usual mixture of cynical digs at other conservation organisations and complete rubbish. He amused the audience with his references to whom he would like to put on a bonfire, (it was bonfire night) and his support of trying to legalise the unlicensed of killing everything that he does not like. There was a membership drive for his homemade conservation organisation as is to be expected but what did surprise me was that he did say some things that I did agree with in reference to how non existent UKIP's agricultural policies are and his dislike for UKIP MEP and agricultural spokesperson Stuart Agnew.

I was given the opportunity to pay tribute to our great family friend Derek Moore who died on the 23rd October with the last talk of the evening and this is what I said:

Derek had been ill for some time having been diagnosed with bowel cancer at the turn of the year and it will come as no surprise to anyone that he fought the disease continually right until the end because Derek truly loved a fight. Derek spent his whole life fighting for conservation, fighting for the environment and fighting for birds. Derek was born in Beccles on 1st January 1943 and as a school boy did not excel leaving school aged 16 with 3 O levels but in that time at the Sir John Lehman Grammer School in Beccles Derek had been taken under the wing of Mr Benson a formidable, moustached, tweed suit wearing school master who was very keen on birds and at the time was the BTO rep for Suffolk. He showed a young Derek Moore many different birds and birding spots around Beccles in the days well before field guides. After leaving school in 1959 he pursued a career in printing and publishing and became very active in the Suffolk birding scene. At this time Derek was playing both football and cricket for Beccles, cricket with a young David Frost. Now I never saw Derek play football but I have heard stories about him an a uncompromising centre back chopping the best centre forwards in the region down and still coming away with the ball or kicking players into the stand because they had the audacity to outpace him, all stories from Derek himself of course because as everyone who knew him will endorse, he was a great story teller. Even if there is no one to corroborate the football stories he was competitive to the end and only last year went to watch my brother Tom playing football for Sporting 87. In the few hours he was in Bury St Edmunds he managed to inspire Tom to set up three goals in the game, be warned by the referee about his conduct as a spectator and upset the Sporting 87 manager by asking him if he actually knew what he was doing. He was a great follower of Norwich City and like all true football fans would be on the phone every evening following a canary victory over Ipswich and as you would expect rarely even answered the phone following an Ipswich victory. With his work for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Derek appeared on BBC Radio Suffolk quite regularly and every now and again was asked to comment on Norwich City as well as countryside issues and on one famous occasion on the Sports Round table, a live Friday evening weekend preview programme the debate about Norwich City had really got Derek fired up. Robert Chase the then chairman was dividing opinion about how the club should be run and the debate was becoming quite heated. The presenter seeing his chance said’ come on Derek why don’t you tell us what you really think… to which Derek replied, “quite frankly Mr Chase if you are listening, Bugger Off!”
Derek took the job as the Director of the Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation on his 42nd birthday in 1985 and in his 14 years in charge transformed the organisation. He brought a mixture of business experience and knowledge of practical conservation to an organisation very old fashioned and behind the times. Derek, was instrumental in changing the name to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and dropping entrance charges to all of the trust’s reserves to allow everyone the opportunity to engage with nature, both ideas that have been adopted by many of the other 47 wildlife trusts in the country. In those 14 years the membership of the trust trebled from 5 to 15 thousand and many of the conservation principles that were introduced during that time are now common place in environmental management today. Derek always knew the importance of profile in the county and value of public support and over the years attracted household names such as his great friend Bill Oddie, Chris Packham, Sir Richard Branson, Michael Palin, Sir David Attenborough and the Duke of Edinburgh to various SWT reserves to get behind different projects. One of Derek’s favourite stories was told to him by Lord Tollemache and it was that one day the Queen was visiting Helmingham and told Lord Tollemache that he should instruct his gamekeepers to cease the shooting out of old crow’s nests as they are used as nesting sites by hobbys. When pressed on where the Queen had learned such information she replied to Lord Tollemache that it had been told to her by a Suffolk man called Derek Moore. One of his greatest successes was getting the port of Felixstowe to offset land against their port expansion development which became Trimley Marshes. Derek understood the importance of engaging with farmers at a time when conservationists and farmers were regularly at loggerheads. The Suffolk Wildlife Trust worked very closely with Suffolk FWAG in their early days and it was a delegation from Suffolk in 1993, encouraged by the former minister of Agriculture John Gummer, that went to the House of Commons and then on to Brussels to campaign for the environmental benefits of set-a-side which was about to be introduced. The delegation that consisted of Derek, David Barker, Richard Rafe, John Cousins, Peter Holborn and the FWAG advisors Juliet Hawkins, Tango Bolton and Alison Lea fought for and succeeded in getting environmental features introduced as non rotational set-a-side and also correct management prescriptions for these areas. It was also at this time that John Cousins came up with the idea of ‘Green Veins through the countryside’ which developed into John, Derek and Juliet taking part in a BBC 2 documentary which was given the same name. John Gummer at the time commented that the strength of the campaign was the fact the farmers and conservationists were united, something at the time which was unheard of. This campaign also provided some of the principles of many of the environmental stewardship schemes which were to follow.

As a small boy I was amazed at the thought that my dad had a friend who could tell birds by their songs and calls as the years progressed Derek was a great inspiration to me, to Brian and to our farm and the way in which it has developed. Derek enjoyed nothing more than being able to wander around our farm and see the many species of farmland birds that we have at Westhorpe. He especially looked forward to hearing Yellowhammers singing as it was a species rarely heard in his part of West Wales. I will never forget on the night that Brian and I won the Silver Lapwing award looking down from the stage to see both Dad and Derek sobbing away together. Derek was incredibly proud to be awarded the OBE by the Queen for his services to Nature conservation. As Derek left the trust in 1999 to take on the job of Director of Conservation for national umbrella organisation, The Wildlife Trusts he was instrumental in Julian Roughton being appointed as his successor and after leaving the Wildlife Trusts he became the Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales. He set up a new home in Wales and in that time became the President of the Welsh Ornithological Society. Derek’s devoted wife Beryl supported him through every move, job change, fight, cause and indeed some of the foreign wildlife watching trips. She did always however regularly plead with Derek at dinner parties not to mention birds until at least the dessert so that their guests could ‘enjoy their evening’. Derek was a man who you could always turn to for advice, information or just a chat. He had a tremendous wealth of knowledge and was always happy to share it with like-minded people and encourage it upon not so like-minded people. With Derek you always knew where you stood, you knew if you were onto a good idea because he would always be in full support and you most certainly knew about it if he didn’t agree with you.  
Just over a year ago Derek’s autobiography, Birds coping with an Obsession was published and it was launched at the British Bird Watching Fair, an event very close to Derek’s heart. It was something that Derek had always wanted to do ‘whilst he could still remember it all’ and his last visit to Suffolk was a year ago where at a joint Waveney Bird Club and Suffolk Ornithologists Group event Derek performed to over 200 people in a sold out Halesworth Cut recounting many stories and experiences from his life. Derek took great pleasure in signing many copies of his book and seeing many of his Suffolk friends that night and I am sure that if Derek had known that would be his last visit to Suffolk he would not have done it any differently.


Westhorpe Hall - New website goes live!

It seems an age since I last wrote a blog post but I make no apologies as I have been working hard with our alternative project, the residential care home, Westhorpe Hall. In early 2012 we were aware that our tenants, the existing care provider’s business was struggling as the rent had stopped being paid and on closer inspection the CQC had serious concerns about the level of care that was being provided and were on the verge of taking enforcement action. We as a family were faced with three scenarios regarding the historic old hall: 1) find someone else to run the care home, 2) close the home and find an alternative use for the hall or 3) acquire the business and bring the home ‘in house’ and run the home ourselves.

 I was under no illusion what a difficult task this would be but I was more than aware that it was my late grandmother Ella’s wish in 1984 that Westhorpe Hall became a care home and I felt we all owed it to her to at least give it a try. The family bought the 230 acres that made up Hall Farm, Westhorpe in 1960 from the Shave family for £68 per acre and this included the grand house. After the Shaves moved out the Hall became a pub, hotel and restaurant and many current visitors have fond memories of nights out in Westhorpe especially the Sunday night discos.
The care home and care business that we took over was on its knees and had been for some time. It was only down to the commitment of many members of staff who had battled on in extremely difficult conditions, financial issues, bad press, a reputation being constantly dragged through the mud and the threat of closure that had kept the place open. The staff all told me that there was something special about the place and how ‘it always was a lovely home’ which convinced me that it was going to be worth persevering with and I was also touched by how supportive the residents families were and how supportive they were of the staff.
One of the refurbished signature rooms.
Two years on we are making steady progress. The toilets, the kitchen and many rooms have been refurbished and two new en-suites have been created where funds allow. We have just launched a new website and new marketing material which should allow us a greater presence in the marketplace and in people’s minds. This is all second to constantly driving the quality of care that we deliver. I am delighted that the staff body has remained largely the same. Continuity in staffing is key and there are four members of staff who have been working at Westhorpe Hall for 30 years or more and the answer to the most asked question is Suffolk, Yes… Anita is still here. So please, feel free to view the website and if anyone is interested in looking around get in touch, follow us on twitter and tell your friends Westhorpe Hall is very much open for business but without the Sunday night discos.

If anyone would like to visit or make enquiries about care and coming to live at Westhorpe Hall or job vacancies please contact Dawn, our manager on 01449 781691 or email office@westhorpehall.co.uk.