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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.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Crop Update

As Christmas lunch is around the corner seasonal vegetable producers are having a real hard time keeping up with demand. Carrots, parsnips, swede and other root vegetables are locked in the ground by our current soil conditions of permafrost.   They are starting to lift them now so hopefully we can all enjoy the honey glazed roasted carrots and parsnips with our turkey.
So what is this snow and permafrost doing to our crop on the farm? Our soil type is a heavy clay based structure that holds water and becomes waterlogged easily at this time of year. This is why my late Grandfather Eric decided that Sugar beet was not the best crop to grow on our soil. The last crop of Sugar beet was grown in 1968 a very wet year and the machinery could not move in the mud. In the end it was hand picked and loaded onto lorries by gypsies in return we paid them in fire wood! This opened up a slot in our crop rotation and we decided to start growing grass seed.
The grass seed crops in the ground currently have been grazed by the sheep, they have gone over all the crops grazing the plants down to their crowns so come the spring as it warms up the plants will send out new strong tillers. These will hopefully carry good amounts of seed and hopefully produce large amounts of good hay in the summer. The Sheep have now left the farm so that is one less thing to worry about over Christmas.
The winter wheat crop is up and looking strong, we started drill early so that the establishment was good. We have rolled and got 80% of the crop sprayed with our pre and post emergence herbicides to combat the black grass. This cold air is also doing us a favour to kill off any pests like aphids that transmit plant diseases such at Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) and slugs that strip the young plants vegetation. Once the climate starts to warm up and the sun comes out the wheat will quickly move on and so will the weeds. We will catch up with the remaining herbicides and then nutrients will be applied to keep the plant health and green so that it can grow strong ready for the summer.
The Oil seed rape is just being hammered by the constant pressure of pigeons. Pigeons flock up at this time of year and once they have exhausted all other food such as acorns they descend on the oil seed rape crops in vast numbers. They eat the fresh leaves and they can ruin a crop, this is why it is important to get the crop up and established year in the year. We drilled our crops on the 18th and 26th of August and they have looked well ever since, however the pigeon damage in places is becoming a problem. To combat the pigeons we hang rope bangers that keep them moving. We do not use the anti-social gas bangers that echo around the countryside on a 20min cycle. Some times once the pigeons find a field it is very hard to move them on and so shooting them is the only way to really remove them. However pigeon shoot is an art, watching flight lines, positioning the hide correctly, setting out the decoys right with the wind, but it is a great days sport if you get it right! Pigeon shooters are always welcome if anyone does want a day shooting pigeons please get in touch ASAP!!  
The crops that are benefitting the most from this weather are the crops we have not drilled yet. This freezing and thawing is doing great things for the soil that is left on the plough. The land ready for the spring crops has been ploughed and had a deep cultivator pulled through it, this has created cracks in the clods which have filled up with water and as it freezes the ice expands the crack, as it thaws it retracts and the clay soil clods weaken and breaks down. This will make the seed bed come the spring very easy to prepare for the grass seed, spring oats and spring beans we are due to drill come April. Hopefully this will save us a pass with the crawler before drilling depending on how consolidated the seed bed is before drilling.
Well this is a little update on how the crops are fairing in this weather once spring comes we will keep you informed on what we are up to on the fields and around the farm. Have a Merry Christmas and look out for our next post soon. BWB  

In the bleak midwinter…..bare a thought for our top predators!!

As the Christmas carol goes……  
‘In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.’
It certainly has been a cold few weeks with our country freezing to a halt with to much snow, not enough salt and frozen pipes. Even our giant birds were grounded at Heathrow and Gatwick (much to the annoyance of a friend of mine trying to do a quick sun migration to watch a bit of cricket down under!!)
On the farm I have been working hard trying to keep all our small farmland birds fed and watered.  Think I have taken nearly two ton of wheat out around the farm to keep there vital fat stores up so they don’t die in the harsh frosts. Also by us getting out and about we are keeping puddles and the occasional pond surface broken so that fresh water is available to the birds for drinking and washing in so disease does not take hold in some species.
I came across an article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday saying a small Blue tit can lose 5% of its body weight over night in the cold weather just trying to stay warm, I think I will have to try that diet after Christmas!! But all joking aside hopefully we can keep as many of these small birds alive through to the spring, so fingers crossed.
However it’s not as easy for our top predators in these winter conditions. The owls and raptors are really struggling to find enough food. The snow cover has created a white blanket over the long grass making it very difficult for the Barn Owls and Kestrels to find mice, shrews and voles who may have ventured out of there warm nests. I have seen Barn Owls and Little Owls hunting and scavenging all the way through the daylight hours in unusual places as well, I feel sorry for them as we can not put food out for them so they are on their own. Just hope that all our stewardship habitat work is up to standard and is provide enough natural food so they can get through the winter.
Patrick’s famous Buzzard it being looked after very well, Pat has been picking up all road kill and has a freezer full of rabbits caught earlier in the year and he has been leaving them out for it to find close to our bird hide so that I maybe able to brave the cold and get some good pictures of it close up.  Sparrowhawks are also enjoying easy pickings as large flocks are finding our scattered food and opportunities to strike are increased with birds worrying about food not about what may be watching from it perch in the near by tree.
I have seen ground predators out and about mainly foxes and stoats. They have been leaving their tracking in the snow and it is amazing how close you find them to your house sometimes!
Come the long awaited thaw whenever it arrives hopefully we will have kept lots of our small birds alive and we can only hope that the owls and raptors have survived on their own survival skills! BWB  

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Westhorpe Buzzards

On 16th November 2007 a Common Buzzard was seen and recorded in Westhorpe. This caused great excitement as a new bird for our farm list (which now stands at 90 since the commencement of our HLS scheme) but was not thought of as anything other than a fortunate visit however, a pair spotted on the 2nd April above our woodland with the breeding season approaching gave rise to the hope that they might be a pair searching for territory. Sightings started to become more regular and by August although I had no firm evidence I was fairly confident that they had bred and then towards the end of August I was able to watch an adult repeatedly dropping into the wood followed by a juvenile in what looked like a flying and hunting lesson. As we still did not really know how many had fledged or where the nest was this was a challenge I set my  self for the following year. It became apparent that this pair was resident during the winter and spring as they could be seen most days including guest appearances on a number of farm walks and educational visits and even our postman had confessed to going home and looking up buzzards in his bird book as he had seen them so often.

On 1st May 2009 to my relief I found a nest. It was similar to a squirrel’s drey, mostly made up of leaves 45ft up an Oak tree in a ‘V’ against the trunk and a thick branch. With the climbing expertise of Reg Woodhart we were able to record a single egg on 15th May, a freshly hatched chick on 21st May and on 8th June 2009 I ringed the first Buzzard in Suffolk since 1999 and only the 3rd ever in the county. The pair of Buzzards are still seen on and around the farm most days and even though there was no confirmed breeding in 2010 we are all hopefull for 2011.
I feel this represents success on two fronts, firstly for Buzzards as their movement eastwards is well documented but their establishment of a breeding territory over ‘normal’ Suffolk farmland is pleasing. There is not the high density of rabbits as on the sandier soil areas such as The Brecks and on the coast but the high Brown Hare population is aided by 160 acres of herbage grass grown for seed and under and around the nest have been the remains of leverets as well as rabbits, pigeons and moorhens. The second area of success is for us and our own HLS scheme and that we are able to sustain a new pair of Primary Predators. There is regular evidence of Foxes, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Tawny and Barn Owls so the new habitats created and improvements to existing ones must be providing plenty of opportunity for the increase of populations of mammals and birds. The fact that only a single chick was raised may be down to the amount of food available so now on the farm any shot vermin or roadkill is left out for the Buzzards. Their presence whilst searching for the food left out especially on freshly drilled Oil Seed Rape fields has proved to be a much cheaper and quieter Pigeon deterrent than bangers!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Farmer vs Black-grass!!!

An insight into one of our biggest battles on the farm: Farmer vs Black-grass!!!
Last week Nick our sprayer operator and myself attended a technical conference about pesticide usage and future developments in the agrichemical world. It was hosted by our agrichemical suppliers Hutchinsons and they had some of the region leading agronomists talking about different techniques farmers can use to combat problematic weeds such as Black-grass and common diseases such as Septoria tritici.
The first section of the conference was about Black-grass control. Black-grass on our farm is the most detrimental weed to our crops yield. If you do not keep on top of it you will quickly become over run with it, for example; one black grass seed head can produce one to two hundred viable seeds and large single plants can produce ten to fifteen seed heads so doing the math that one plant could produce 3000 seeds that can stay dormant in the soil for over a year!
The real dilemma for farmers is that this weed is very good at recovering if you do not kill it out right. This means that it can become resistant to common herbicide chemicals that we use on a year to year basis by mutating its genes and then this is passed onto its seed and the problem becomes serious. Currently farmers only have two main ways of attacking the problem these are known as cultural control and chemical control.
On our farm we see chemical control as a last resort and any use of any pesticide is only used when it is really needed, so that we can be as environmentally friendly and economical as possible as these pesticides are not cheap. Any application we do to our crops are done in the best condition and at optimum time to allow excellent control, so we are happy that our expensive chemicals have the best chance of doing the best job so emergency measures are not needed.
We have developed as plan of attack against Black-grass using cultural controls as building blocks and chemical control as the clean up products that allows us to farm effectively. The cultural controls that we employ on the farm are things such as the plough, crop rotation, stale seed beds, cultivation timings and seed rates.
The plough is a traditional piece of farming equipment that has been used for generations to combat black-grass and many other weeds. Through ploughing a control of up to 70% can be gained by burying black-grass seed deep into the soil so they rot and die but some can survive. The surviving one can be removed by stale seed beds, this is when a farmer cultivates stubble soon after the last year’s crop has been removed. This triggers a flush of weed seeds and volunteer seeds from the previous crop to germinate creating green stubble. This flush is then either cultivated out again to allow another flush in bad fields or a broad spectrum herbicide such as Glyphosate (Round up)is used to give a complete kill before the drilling of the next crop. This is the only chemical control that does not have resistance problem in any weed or plant group. Crop rotation from year to year is vitally important to allow different drilling dates which allows more weeds to germinate before crop drilling, also different chemical groups work in different crops so if a black-grass plant is resistance to one chemical group another group can be used to kill it in another crop. If the worst came to the worse and black-grass become too much of a problem (black-grass can reduce wheat yields by 75%) fields would have to be left fallow for a year and stale seed bed techniques used throughout the year to reduce the black-grass seed bank. This would not be very good for our farming output as we have to look at producing the largest amount of food from an ever decreasing farmland area as world population ever increasing.
Black-grass like most grasses has the ability to germinate right though the year but mainly spring and autumn when the soil is warm and moist this is why we work so hard to reduce the weed seed bank using cultural controls and backing it up with correctly timed chemical control.   BWB

Friday, 3 December 2010

Wild Bird Food and Feeding

Throughout the year we try maintain an ample food supply all year round. We do this in a number of ways around the farm from planting specific bird food mixes, managing our hedgerows more sympathetically, leaving the odd weed in some areas and positioning feed stations around the farm. 

The areas of wild bird seed mix are vital in maintain our population of small farmland birds. These are our giant bird tables but are actually grown. In the spring we sow blocks the seed mix around the farm; normally these areas are about half a hectare in size and positioned about 500m apart from each other. The location is important as a small bird in winter will only forage for 500m from its roost site. We also locate them close to a hedge or wood to give weather protection and a safe place for the birds to return to if an alarm call is sounded by one of them. The mix is important and we have tried a few different mixes and have had some good crops and weaker ones. The mix we have sown this year is sunflowers, red & white millet, mustard, phacelia, linseed, oats and triticale. We chose these plants as they all give a good yield of seed but at different times of the year. The sunflowers release seeds early which are important as they mean that the small bird put on weight very quickly before the winter sets in. The millet and cereals hold their seed longer in to the winter.  We have to help bridge 'the hungry gap' which is through the harsh winter months (Dec- Mar) when natural food is scarce. This year we have also used maize as a structural plant to make it stand up longer under the weight of the snow. We use late cobing maize so that the cobs are immature and do not draw in deer and rats that like to feed on them. This is a trial and has worked but the rate was a little high which has meant that the other plants were smoothers out in their growth stages so the amount of food is a bit low, which means that we are still learning and next year we can adjust the rate.

We maximize our natural food by using correct management of our natural larders, our hedgerows. We have to cut and control the growth of them but we do this on a 3 year cutting rotation. Leaving the hedgerows for three years allow the hedge plants to produce bumper crops of berries in years 2 and 3. Hedges that have been cut that year never produce as many as the budding parts of the plant are removed in the cutting process. The cutting timing is done within the regulated time of year allowed by Natural England and we try and do it when all the berries have been removed by the large numbers of Thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings that descend on to the farm on their migratory routes.

We also supplement these areas throughout the year with hoppers and ground scattered wheat and barn sweepings. All the seed that is taken out of our wheat that has been dressed in the barn is bagged up and store for the real cold snaps. In the last week through this time of snow we have taken out close to a ton of wheat to these area and the pheasants have done a great job keeping the food clear of snow so that the small birds can feed as well. These areas are full of birds currently, large mixed flocks of Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Reed buntings and mixtures of Blue, Great, Coal and Marsh tits. Pat will soon have his nets up to start our program of bird ringing on the farm. I'm sure he will keep you informed as he hangs the nets in these areas.

This is what we do around the farm to help the populations of birds but every little helps. So please try and keep your garden bird tables and bird feeders stocked well throughout the winter. Peanuts, fat balls (remember to remove the green net bags so birds feet don't get caught), Sunflower seed and mixes of cereals are vital food sources for all birds and you may be surprised what finds them. This picture of a Treecreeper was taken out of our office window tucking into the peanuts on offer! BWB

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Suffolk NFU MPs Dinner

On Friday evening I was able to attend the Suffolk NFU MPs dinner at Trinity Park. With over 100 people in attendance it was a very enjoyable and useful evening for Suffolk farmers to have the opportunity to meet Tim Yeo (South Suffolk), Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk & North Ipswich), Therese Coffee (Suffolk Costal), David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) and Geoffrey Van Orden (MEP for the East of England) and other special guests including Simon Ash (Chief Constable), Richard Scott (Chairman Suffolk NFU) Stephen Rash (Suffolk's NFU National Council Delegate) and Pam Forbes (NFU Regional Director). With all of the food sourced from Suffolk farms and food producers their was much to celebrate.

Tim Yeo spoke very passionately about his role as and MP and it was reassuring to hear that farming is high on the list of priorities for our representatives in parliament and that they understand the importance of the agricultural industry in rural constituencies. The evening went very well and hopefully is the first of a number of events of this nature giving farmers confidence that they have a voice in Parliament.

Having met Agriculture Minister Jim Paice recently I know that farming is high on the political agenda and that as an industry we have people who know what they are talking about in Westminster setting policies and working on plans to reduce bureaucracy and promote British farming and local produce. PJB

Sheep are back

Anyone driving between Westhorpe and Walsham Le Willows in the last week will have noticed that we have a flock of 310 ewes and 6 tups on the farm grazing our grassland. This is an important part of the crop management for the herbage grass crops which are all rye grass and grown for seed. The two varieties of grass being grown are both different with one producing a fine, rich grass which will go for lawns and sports pitches and the second, a rougher, hard wearing grass for paddocks and verges. We are able to establish the grass early by sowing it under the spring oats so that by the time the oats are combined there is a layer of grass already growing. The grass crop is down for 2 years, taking off one seed and one hay crop per year and is grazed twice, once in the first winter and once in the second. The grass plays a crucial part of the rotation with crop adding valuable Nitrogen to the soil giving the land the ability to grow wheat for the following 3 years. The yield and quality of the grass crops has significantly increased since the re-introduction of grazing into the rotation and has reduced some of our management as well. Sheep are the ideal animals for this type of grassland management as they nibble grass down to a 2cm sward rather than the ripping that cows do. Grazing removes the need to mow the field at any point during the autumn or winter and increases tillering of existing plants, gives the field an additional covering of organic matter in the form of manure and the constant hooves in the soil increases germination of new grass and weeds such as blackgrass giving us the opportunity to spray out the germinated competitive weeds once the sheep have departed. As with any livestock their are benefits to the farm’s biodiversity with a range of species present as a result of the presence of the sheep, many insects and beetles can be found in the fields in the manure and bird species such as meadow pipit and skylark are found in greater numbers in the fields with sheep.

It goes without saying that if you see the sheep whilst out please keep dogs on leads, especially as the electric fence is on and if you see any sheep in distress (not limping) or anything untoward going on ring any of the numbers on the boards around the edge of the field.


Friday, 26 November 2010

Illegal Hare Coursing

Yesterday we had another group of illegal hare coursers using our poor hares as targets for there dogs and we have actually had hares being killed. They just pull up and turf the dog out and watch. It has been a problem over these last few months in Mid Suffolk and each time we have seen them we have had to call the Police which is the correct thing to do.

I have asked Suffolk Police what is the correct protocol that we, the general public, should follow if we ever witness illegal hare coursing. This is the information that I was given:

All Hare Coursing with dogs is illegal under The Hunting Act 2004 and anyone convicted of the offence can be fined up to £5,000 by a Magistrates’ Court. The Police have the power to impound and crush vehicles used by the offenders if the vehicle is on, or has been used to trespass over, private property.

If you ever witness any criminal act taking place, not just hare coursing, you should dial 999 immediately!!! (Use the local Police number 01473 613500 when reporting anything that has already happened e.g. a property break-in, or for giving information on a previous or other incident) Hare coursing is now regarded as high priority and so blue lights will be used. The sooner you call, the sooner the Police can arrive on the scene.

When you call the Police any information you can give them will help. The location where you witnessed the event, vehicle registration, make and model, number of offenders, description of offender e.g. White male, mid 30’s, brown hair, wearing blue jeans and green jacket, number of dogs, if there are any firearms etc.

For you own safety PLEASE DO NOT APPROACH THEM the offenders usually do know they are breaking the law.The last thing the Police want is any confrontation between you and offenders and in some incidences arguments and damage to property have occurred when people take it upon themselves to approach them.Usually, once the offenders realize that they have been spotted, they make a sharp exit before the Police arrive. So please observe from a safe distance and keep Police informed if they move on and in which direction they have gone.

If you know the land owner then please make them aware of the situation so that they can help. They can keep an eye out around the countryside and pass on information through the Farm Watch Network.

We thank you for your help and information you may provide about any rural crime or suspicious activity. Together with assistance from Suffolk Police we can work to keeping Suffolk and our local villages as safe as possible. BWB

This weeks Shooting Times

David Tomlinson has written a very nice article for this week's Shooting Times about us, the farm, our conservation work and it's integration with shooting and hunting and the article also features 5 of Brian's best wildlife photos.

Suffolk Young Farmers Forum

Last Friday Brian and I were invited to join a panel of local agricultural experts at an agricultural forum run by Suffolk Young Farmers Club at Otley College. The forum was based around the question : What do you think is the future of agriculture for young people? The evening, funded by the Chadacre Trust, was chaired Robert Hatch from Ensors and other panellists were Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Rowland Beaney from Lacey Scott and Knight, Jason Salisbury from Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses and Mark Berry Regional Agricultural Manager for Lloyds TSB Agriculture. With over 50 people in attendance all with an interest in agriculture there was lively debate and good questions on farming, the future, policies, training and apprenticeships and the opportunities for and challenges facing young people in the industry. I believe we represented ourselves and the work that we do very well without getting into any rants.... and showed that with a clear vision and knowledge of your chosen field it is possible for young people to forge a career in farming and the associated industries.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Educational visits and Permissive access money removed by DEFRA

 Oh dear, DEFRA's spending review belt has just been tightened again! One of the aims of our scheme was to get people on farm and educate them about farming. Under the new revised scheme all funding for educational visits and permissive access has been taken away. This will now affect all new farmers applying for HLS agreements. Our own agreement will carry on until we re-apply but I can't think that this is beneficial to DEFRA at all, for the amount of money it was costing Natural England it was giving farmers the push they needed to actually go out and get the general public on their farm. Everyone we have had out on the farm has been really interested and had a great visit and this PR for the industry is vital in our eyes. Its a real shame that the government do not see it as important. Also affected are all the new public permissive access routes so horse riders, walkers and cyclist you will only have 5 more years of open farm track before they unfortunately will be shut and no more opened and you will have to go back to riding on the busy roads as we can not financially justify having these areas left uncropped without these payments. Hopefully in 5years time countryside access maybe seen a bit more important and our farm network will stay open. Once again the cost cutting exercise has been carried out on areas that give more benefit than cost of pounds. It is a shame for all who enjoy the countryside and want to improve the PR of a industry that needs to opens its gates to reconnect the public with where their food comes from. B

Hay Baling with a twist of craziness!!

DON'T  TRY THIS AT HOME!!!! Some farmers bordom drives them to go crazy and do stupid things!!!
Wonder what the HSE would thing of this?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Had a very kind invite to shoot up at Easton College Nr Norwich today by invitation of a friend. Had a cracking days sport but what made this days shooting very different was that the students of the Countryside and Gamekeeper course ran the whole day. The staff were just on hand to help but the students set the tone for the day. All very professional, polite and knowlegable about the countryside, Thanks very much for the great day and look out for Easton College students running a shoot near you in the future, if they put on a day like today then you will have a very enjoyable one!  B

Friday, 19 November 2010

Farmers Weekly Countryside Farmers of the Year 2010

Brian & Patrick Barker
Lodge and Kiln Farm, Suffolk

Sponsored by Natural England

Brian and Patrick Barker say one is a farmer/conservationist and the other a conservationist/farmer. And they've used this mixture of farming and environmental nous to change how their family has farmed for generations.

Cousins Brian, 27, and Patrick, 29, came to the 513ha family operation, Lodge and Kiln Farm near Stowmarket in Suffolk, six years ago.
Since then they have reverted marginal areas to grassland - most notably a section to link together parcels of grassland on their farm - and planted wild bird mix, cleaned and restored ponds and altered the arable production and use of equipment.
"We did the ELS and HLS because we wanted it to be how we put our stamp on the farm that we are taking on to inherit," says Brian.
The whole farm is included in the HLS which has got Brian and Patrick clearing the 30 ponds across the farm at a rate of three a year.
"I looked at the habitats we have on the farm and they are all unique. When you look at it it's not very pulled together so I came up with this idea to connect the various areas with watercourses, fields being transformed back to grass and hedges," says Patrick.
The Barkers weren't comfortable buying seed "off the shelf" when returning sections of the farm to grassland so they researched an innovative technique to spread local seeds.
They used the "green hay seed" technique, mowing and baling the grass from the village green and moving the bales on the same day to their fields, where it is rolled out and spread.
"Everywhere we've taken it we've had really good take up, we have pretty much got all the species, with plenty of nectar for insect life to feed the chicks, such as Grey Partridge, early on," says Patrick.
Brian and Patrick have also reduced the amount of machinery used on the farm from six tractors and a specialist crawler to two tractors and a crawler, which has led to a variety of savings in maintenance, labour, and fuel.
The boys completely removed their families' pig operation, redeveloping one of the buildings, constructed on an isolated muck pad, into a fertiliser and chemical filling station and storage area.
"We know we are definitely more efficient than we were a few years ago," says Brian.
"But now we are starting to build a base of statistics to show we are working everything to its maximum, getting the most out of the land and the machinery and labour."


• 513ha area
• 30 ponds across the farm
• "Green hay" used to keep local species in new grasslands
• 43km of hedgerows
• Detailed plans for wildlife


• Detailed knowledge of animal and plant life
• Replacement of expensive equipment
• Excellent crop management
• Clear vision for the farm as a business

FWAG Silver Lapwing Winners 2009


Patrick and Brian Barker of Lodge Farm, Westhorpe, Suffolk were announced as the winners of the 2009 FWAG Silver Lapwing Awards at a House of Commons reception on 28 October.   Cousins Patrick and Brian Barker were presented with a silver lapwing trophy, designed by Patricia Northcroft, and a cheque for £1,000 by TV presenter and farmer, Jimmy Doherty. 

Aimed at farmers and landowners who demonstrate outstanding commitment to conservation and environmental management, the FWAG Silver Lapwing Awards reward the very best land managers who can show a track record of environmental best practice integrated into a commercially successful farming enterprise for more than three years.   The Awards are being sponsored in 2009 – FWAG’s 40th anniversary year – by Waitrose in association with Coombe Farm.

Situated in the north Suffolk and south Norfolk clay lands Lodge Farm is a 510 hectare mixed enterprise farmed in partnership by Patrick and Brian Barker.   The farm’s aim is to produce high standard, high yielding crops for a variety of markets whilst always considering its impact on the environment and local landscape. 

The production – feed wheat, herbage grass seed crops, oil seed rape, spring beans and spring cereals – is the primary enterprise and is always given priority but in recent years a healthy balance has been forged to allow as much wildlife to prosper without affecting the farm’s output.    The farm is currently in its third year of a Higher Level Stewardship agreement and has been in Entry Level Stewardship for five years.     Nutrient and pesticide use has been considered by the Barkers and this led them to creating a new store which incorporated an isolated drainage system to prevent any possibility of water contamination.  A specific sprayer filling area has been built to catch and contain any spills and the water storage is fed by grey water.  The farm machinery fleet has also been assessed and scaled down to improve the efficiency of the farm and increase the speed and timings of all applications so that the soil and environment are not damaged by unsuitable working conditions.

Lodge Farm has 43km of large old and new species rich hedges and ditches, 25 ponds, 10 hectares of ash and oak woodland and other areas of scrub and young woodland.    A 4km grassland corridor has been created through the heartland of the farm taking fields and field corners out of production to return them to traditional wildflower meadows using green hay seed relocation from the local village green.  The corridor runs along the main watercourse of the farm and the watercourse has been given extra protection from modern agricultural practices by this newly created feature.  Grass margins have been used to combine the well established hedgerow network with the new grass habitats and existing habitats. 

The main conservation aim of the farm has been to increase farmland bird populations and protect the colony of Great Crested Newts present.  In order to achieve this aim the lower end of the food chain needed to be addressed.  Grassland and hedgerows were managed better to give more nectar, seed and potential nesting sites for insects, birds and mammals.  Vital winter food sources have been created for birds with 6ha of wild seed mix and pollen and nectar mix being sown over the farm in blocks of half a hectare.  Over the past 3 years 85 species of bird have been recorded including 13 Biodiversity Action Plan species which have been spotted on a regular basis.

Another important aspect of the farm’s operations is that of public access.  Eight kilometres of new permissive paths have been created for walkers and horse riders, all of which link up to existing bridleways and footpaths.    Waveney Bird Club use the farm as a Constant Effort Site and for ringing training, barn owl pellets are analysed for the Suffolk Harvest Mouse project and all bird rarities are submitted to the Suffolk county recorder.  The Barkers are also currently providing data for the Suffolk Hedgerow survey.

Over the next three years Patrick and Brian Barker will be building on their successes with further green hay seed relocation on to the grass margins and field corners.  The current bird ringing programme will continue and the family is also looking to develop their private collection of rural bygones into an educational asset.

Jim Egan, FWAG’s Technical Manager and one of the judges of the FWAG Silver Lapwing Award said “The Barkers are inspirational in their approach to integrating farming and environmental management.  As well as managing a well-run commercial farming operation they have spent a great deal of time seeking out advice and information on environmental issues and displayed an in-depth knowledge and great passion for wildlife”.