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.
I currently record all interesting wildlife on the farm and intend to write a monthly blog update to let everyone know what has been seen in and around Westhorpe and Great Ashfield.
March is one of the months that sees the most dramatic changes on the landscape, with this March being no exception. Around the 20th the Blackthorn burst into blossom with white patches appearing in every hedgerow. The Goat Willow Catkins were out by the 5th, being worked over by bumblebees and honey bees out of hibernation. The crops really started to grow; most noticeably the oil seed rape which has more than doubled in height during the month. The wheat and grass has grown substantially as well. On the outside of the fields, the Primroses and Cowslips are coming into flower.In the damp areas and shallow water, Water Mint and other broadleaved aquatic plants such as Water Plantain and Water Starwort are emerging.These will hopefully provide great egg laying opportunities for Great Crested Newts. In the woodlands, Dog’s Mercury has carpeted the floor with new growth.On the edge of the woods Small Tortoiseshell butterflies have been emerging.
We have seen Barn Owls, Buzzards and a flock of upto 50 Linnet almost everyday during the month, as well as around 300 Yellowhammers feeding around the lagoon. Ringing during March has shown us that many of the male Yellowhammers, Linnet, Reed Bunting, Dunnocks and Blackbirds are developing their breeding plumage. Some are showing physical signs of preparing to breed.
We have caught and ringed 93 new Yellowhammers in March and 24 new Linnet. We have also caught a control (a bird already ringed but not one that our ringing group has put on) Linnet which was ringed at Languard Bird Observatory near Felixstowe on the 18th April 2010. As the breeding season approaches there have been many species of birds calling and singing to establish breeding territories and attempt to attract a mate.During March, the most noticeable have been Little Owls, Dunnocks, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Chaffinches. Buzzards and Sparrowhawks have been displaying, while Blue Tits, Great Tits, House Sparrows, Pied Wagtails, Stock Doves and Collared Doves have been seen investigating potential nest sites or collecting nesting material around the farmyard. Other sightings have been a Little Egret (3rd - 6th) Wheatear (29th), thefirst Chiffchaffs of the year on the 23rd at both farms, and a Kingfisher (22nd) at the Hall. Large flocks of Starlings were present (10th-14th) and large flocks of Fieldfares have been passing over heading north for the summer. The other migrants, Woodcock, Redwings and Brambling that we have been seeing all winter have gone.Blackbirds and Robins have all reduced in number, with the continental migrants all returning home. The early indications are that there are 3 pairs of Grey Partridge around Westhorpe and we hope that they will breed. On the ground, hares were boxing (from 12th), a fox has been spotted a few times near the lagoon and hedgehogs have been spotted from the 28th, although mostly on the roads. In water, the Great Crested Newts are now clearly visible at Great Ashfield with the males starting to develop their unmistakable crest.Frogs and toads are calling in every pond on the farm. The first frogspawn was seen on the 21st and there are smooth newts in the pond next to Westhorpe Hall, which is the most recently cleaned out pond.
Frogspawn at Great Ashfield
All in all, a great deal of activity as spring starts and much to see. On a farm the benefits of careful habitat management are evident and it is heart warming to see such a wide variety of species. Hopefully April will be even better with more summer migrants arriving, butterflies and other insects emerging from hibernation and the breeding season getting underway for all species. PJB