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.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Wild on Wednesdays

I have been invited to be part of BBC Radio Suffolk's panel of countryside contributors in a slot called 'Wild on Wednesdays' on Lesley Dolphin's afternoon show. Today was the first time I had the opportunity to contribute to the show and it can be heard on the BBC iplayer - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00dv96z but only lasts for a week. Other contributors to this show are Nicola Currie (CLA), Stephen Rash (NFU), Paul Stancliffe (BTO), Iain Barthorpe (RSPB) and Julian Roughton (SWT). This is another opportunity for me show off the work that we are doing and bang the drum for British and Suffolk Farmers. PJB

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The arrival of Great Crested Newts!



Over the weekend I was out with Flo my dog and walking back through the garden, I stopped by the pond and made a mental note that I should keep an eye on it over next few weeks to see when the first Great Crested Newts arrive.
As I was standing there, a small circular ripple broke the surface and there was the silvery flick of the tail as a large male Great Crested Newt descended to the depths to hide under the leaf litter on the bottom.
I was surprised to see it in the pond as it is still relatively cold and, following the winter we have had, I thought they may take their time coming out of hibernation. During the winter when we are tucked up in front of the fire, the Great Crested Newts have the same idea and are deep underground or have found a nice insulated heap of wood or bit of deep leaf litter in which to conserve energy through the snow and frosty months. As the first signs of spring arrive, the Great Crested Newts start to emerge and set out to find their nearest body of water to prepare for the breeding season. The full grown males are normally first into the ponds to start to set up a courtship area, normally just under the surface of the pond. The male’s crest on its back starts to grow in readiness for the breeding season, this is how they got their name as they are the largest of any newt found in Europe, males can reach 110-120mm in length and have a prehistoric looking jagged crest on their back, much more pronounced than that of the small male of the Smooth Newts. Other distinctive identification marks are the silvery stripe running down the side of their broad tail and yellowy orange under-belly. The females lack the crest and the silvery tail stripe but still have the orange belly and are large in comparison with other newts, measuring 90-100mm in length.
The females arrive at the breeding pond a bit later on; experts believe they may hunt on land before breeding so they are in full strength for egg production. Newts will hunt on land for the majority of the year; long grass, wet leaf litter, scrub and woodland with good floor covering are their preferred hunting habitats. They are prolific predators, feeding on worms, slugs, spiders and larvae - basically anything soft and smaller than them that crawls or wriggles!    
March is the month that we would expect to see both males and females in the breeding ponds. They will then stay and feed in the pond, only leaving to find another pond close by once competition for breeding becomes too much. Toad and Frog tadpoles are early season prey but any other fresh water invertebrates such as water lice, fresh water shrimps, fly larvae etc make a meal for a Great Crested Newt.
The main breeding period is April through to May but newts can be seen in the water from February to September. The males find a suitable courtship territory usually in shallow water down to one metre deep. Males are competitive and sometimes mimic females by flattening their crest and misleading other males, to take their attention away and steal their courtship area, but large males will defend a good site. They attract females towards them by doing a courtship dance. There is a particular order of events before fertilisation take place. As a female moves into a male’s area he will try and impress her by arching his back to show how large and fat a body he has by the brightness and size of his orange under belly, this is showing his strength but he uses his tail and the silvery stripe as a lure to attract her more, slowly wafting or fanning the tail in the view of the female. The female will show how well he is doing by touching his tail with her nose. As he fans his tail, he is also releasing pheromones towards her nose to entice her even closer and so he leads her off to prepare for fertilisation. As the female follows him, the male will deposit a small white mass of sperm on the pond floor and by maintaining his courtship dance the female follows his signal and moves over the sperm. The female picks the sperm jelly up in her vent and fertilisation takes place internally and the male’s job is done.
The female then heads off to lay her eggs singly. She finds an area of soft aquatic vegetation. Submerged water mint or water forget-me-not are preferred but any soft leaf plant under the surface will do. Using her back legs, she grips the vegetation and secrets sticky mucus from a gland that holds the leaves together to create an envelope in which she lays the single egg. A female will lay up to 250 eggs in one season and up to 10 a night. The leaf envelope protects the egg from disturbance and predation by other newts and predator beetles. Later in the breeding season, depending on the health of the pond and the amount of suitable vegetation for egg laying, the females may start to lay eggs on old leaf litter or on other plant material and you may be able to see the small white eggs on stems and other leaves close to the surface of your garden ponds if you look carefully.
Hatching rates depend on the water temperature. If conditions are right, they can hatch in two weeks but in shaded or not very newt-friendly ponds, it can take up to three times as long. However, due to chromosome abnormalities, only 50% of all eggs laid actually hatch. The lucky baby newtoids develop through a number of stages (it gets a bit technical but they have 9 growth stages) and they do not leave the safety of the pond until they are about 18 weeks old and have grown into mini newts. They keep on growing for a couple of years, reaching sexual maturity at two years old for females and 4 years old for males. In this period of development, they forage on land and travel to find new breeding ponds away from their place of birth. Newts use long grass, hedgerows and gardens as corridors for food and habitat until they find a pond suitable for breeding in. This is why it is important to keep any size pond in the best condition you can for aquatic wildlife, as you never know when the local Great Crested Newt scouts may find it and colonise it. They may be in your pond already, you may have not have seen them yet but a Great Crested Newt can move about 500m a year in the hunt for new breeding sites so keep an eye out for them over the next few months.
So what makes a good health aquatic wildlife pond, I hear you ask? Well, you will have to come back and find that out. I will make it my next Blog entry but I should really go do some farm work before Dad returns from his District Council work!!!   BWB

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Marsh Tit

Poecile palustris
The Marsh Tit is very similar in appearance to the Willow Tit and the two are often confused. Similar in size to the Blue Tit but with greyish-brown above, dirty white below and black caps and bibs. There are no differences in plumage between males and females.
Size
11-12cm
Weight
12g
Habitat
Despite their name Marsh Tits are a woodland bird that favours woods, hedges and mature gardens.
Nest
Marsh Tits build their nests in existing holes in trees or walls at head height or higher.
Eggs
One clutch of 6-9 white eggs with brown spots in April-June.
Food
Insects in the breeding season, seeds and berries at other times.
Voice
Loud, sneezing pitchout-pitchou.
Characteristics
Occurs across England and Wales, with a few in southern Scotland. Abundant in S Wales and southern and eastern England. Found largely in deciduous woodland, also copses, parks and gardens, but is relatively scarce in urban areas.
BTO Statistics
Marsh Tit populations have recently declined and are red status.
Breeding
The female incubates the eggs for 13-15 days and fledging occurs 17-20 days after hatching. Both males and females will feed the young until they leave the nest.
Feeding
Eats insects during the breeding season, and seeds, berries and nuts at other times. Marsh Tits are know to hoard food eating it within a few days.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Bird Ringing at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe


Patrick ringing 2 Tawny Owl Chicks in 2010

 The Waveney Bird Club ringing group have been ringing birds regularly at The Barker’s Farm at Westhorpe since December 2008 in accordance with the rules of the British Trust for Ornithology’s ringing scheme and has provided the club’s ringers with many different birds, valuable training and much entertainment. Ringing started following the erecting of large nest boxes as part of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project in early 2008 and when the box in Moathill meadow fledged 3 Kestrel chicks and that summer ringing was off and running. In the 2 summers since then we have ringed young and adult Kestrels, young Stock Doves and Young Tawny Owls in the nest boxes around the farm and in June 2009 we ringed a buzzard chick from a nest in the woodland. As ringing progresses on the site we will look to gain as much understanding as possible about farmland birds, their movements, longevity and feeding habits and continue to add to the BTO’s data set for birds in the British Isles.

A Robin being ringed by Roger Walsh
Using the HLS option of Wild Bird Seed Mix we are not only able to providing many species of birds with a valuable food source by bridging the hungry gap but also giving the first year fledglings the opportunity to develop and grow as they are so important for providing the breeding population for the following year. Therefore these areas of seed mix are full of birds through the winter and flock counts are regularly in the region of 300 with Yellowhammers, Linnet, Greenfinch and Chaffinch the most common birds and Brambling, Reed Bunting, Redpoll, Bullfinch and Goldfinch at times as well as traditional garden birds such as Robin, Wren, Dunnock, Blackbirds and Blue, Great, Coal Marsh and Long Tailed Tits. We have also on rare occasions caught Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Song Thrush, Kestrel, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redwing and Jay. We have even on the odd occasion caught and ringed Woodpigeons. The most pleasing aspect of these mixes is their contribution addressing the declines in farmland birds and it is rewarding to see Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species such as Yellowhammer, Linnet, Song Thrush, Bullfinch and Dunnock in such large numbers. The mixes we sow contain red and white millet, sunflowers, late cob maize, mustard, phacelia, linseed and spring oats and are drilled in May with the sunflowers and phacelia flowering in June and July providing a great source of nectar for insects especially bumblebees and start to shed their see at the end of the autumn.
Some of the ringing highlights from Lodge Farm –

GK50572 – The first Buzzard ringed in Suffolk since 1995 and only the 3rd ever in the County.

V546204  -A Great Tit ringed in Thetford controlled at Westhorpe in 21-1-2010, 915 days later.

TJ83912 – A Greenfinch ringed at Gibraltar Point, Skegness, Lincolnshire on 04/05/2008 found dead in Westhorpe on 21/10/2009 545 days and 102km later.

X590181 - A Great Tit ringed by Stephen Flory in Westhorpe on 20/02/2009 and then re-caught in his own garden at Thorndon on 01/07/2009 131 days and 10km later.

EW92779 – A Kestrel, one of a brood of 4 chicks that fledged from a box in Braisworth was ringed on 18/06/2009 was controlled at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe on 03/01/2010, 199 days and 8km later. Another chick from this brood was found dead in Thornham Parva on 28/02/2010, 255 days after being ringed.


The Bullfinch


Pyrrhula pyrrhula
The Bullfinch was so named because of its thick, stocky neck, which resembles that of a bull.
Males are unmistakable with their stout shape, bright cherry-pink underparts, black head and face, bluish-grey back, black tails and wings, with white wingbar. The female looks like a browner version of the male, with buffish-brown back and underparts.
Size
15cm
Weight
21 - 27gms
Habitat
A regular visitor to gardens, expecially in rural areas near woodlands or fruit growing areas.
Nest
A loose construction of fine twigs and moss, with a neat inner liner of roots and hair. Built in thick cover.
Eggs
4-5 green/blue with purple-brown spots and streaks.
Food
Mainly seed eaters, but also eat berries and fruit buds. Particularly fond of sunflower hearts.
Voice
a distinctive low, piping 'tue', which carries well.
Characteristics
With its bright, cherry-red plummage, conspicuous white rump and stout bill, the male Bullfinch is one of our most striking and attractive small birds. It is a secretive bird, with a preferred diest of seeds. When stocks of seed run out they may turn to fruit tree buds, even though these contain little nourishment.
The Bullfinch is a sedentary species,,which generally does not travel more than 100km (60 miles). Never far from dense cover, keeping to bushes and trees, Bullfinch rarely settle on the groun. When they do, movement is by a series of ungainly hops.
BTO Statistics
Although frequently spotted in the south and east of the UK, the Bullfinch is currently undergoing a rapid decline in population and is now an official 'Red List' species. The bad news is that according to the Common Bir Census, there has been a 62% decline in Bullfinch numbers in a 25 year period (1972 - 1996).
There have been a number of suggestions as to why this particular species has been affected so badly. Declining numbers have been attributed to the loss of straggling hedges, which are the preferred nesting sites of the Bullfinch. Another major contributing factor is the intensification of agriculture, stripping the land of vital food supplies and nesting sites. You can help reverse this decline in the numbers of Bullfinch by providing nutritious havens within your garden for nesting birds.
Breeding
Unlike many other garden birds, breeding pairs of Bullfinch stay together throughout the year rather than splitting up after breeding.
Their breeding season begins in late April, where the male takes the initiative in choosing the nesting site. The female then builds the delicate nest, where she will normally have two broods, which are incubated for 12-14 days.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The Yellowhammer

Latin Name: Emberiza citrinella

A long, slim bunting, the male Yellowhammer has a sulphur-yellow head streaked with light brown. The upperparts and rump are chestnut-brown, streaked darker on the back. The breast is chestnut, shading to pale on the belly.
The female and juvenile resemble a much duller version of the male and often show very little yellow in their plumage and are therefore often confused with other species of bunting or sparrow.

Size:
15.5 - 17cm

Weight:
27gms

Habitat:
Mainly farmland and rural gardens.

Nest:
Bulky, of grass or straw, low in gorse or tussock Nests.

Eggs:
3 - 5, pale with dark 'scribbling'.

Food:
Insects during the breeding season, seeds, cereals and berries all year round.

Voice:
A variety of stifled, short, clicking calls. Familiar 'little-bit-of-bread-no-cheese'.

Characterisitics:
The Yellowhammer, with its striking yellow and brown plumage is one of the best-known birds in rural Britain. They are mainly a bird of arable farmland, often seen in stubble fields and farmyards throughout the year.
As with many other farmland species, however the Yellowhammer is currently undergoing a major population decline.The Yellowhammer often sings throughout the summer, continuing after many other birds have fallen silent. In winter they are social, roosting in large numbers in rank vegetation, sometimes in reed beds and even on occasion in snow burrows.
As food shortages in the surrounding countryside reach their peak, rural gardens may have visits from this arable bird. Large flocks of Yellowhammer with other buntings and finches, have been seen in large gardens to feed on seed and grain.

Breeding:
You will be very lucky to see Yellowhammers nesting in your garden as they tend to breed mainly on farmlands, rather than in gardens. The males are aggressive when setting up their territory and pursue their prospective mate in a rapid, twisting courtship flight. The dark, irregular lines on the egg have given rise to the country name of 'scribbling lark'. Once paired, both birds often feed together and gather food for their young together away from the nesting territory. The young are fed almost entirely on green caterpillars and insects.

Agri-chemicals used on the Farm


Well, the tail end of winter is starting to warm up and the first signs of spring are beginning to show; catkins are on the hedgerows and the aconites and snow drops are pushing up through the ground. The crops are also showing us that the soil is warming in the early spring sun, which has also greened up the oil seed rape, grass and wheat crops. The strong wind over the weekend is drying the surface nicely, so soon when out and about, you will be seeing farmers spinning a bit of nitrogen on the rape and the sprayers covering the ground, catching up on the herbicide applications that got cut short by winter closing in early.
The sprayer is one of the most important machines on the farm.  It is a very necessary, expensive, accurate and sometimes controversial piece of equipment. To the farmer this is the one piece of equipment that can dramatically improve his yields, due to the full range of agri-chemicals that he can accurately apply to his crops.  The pesticides that are applied through this machine are important to our business as they keep the crops clean of invasive weeds, prevent and cure disease outbreaks, give vital folia feed so they grow strong, and eradicate any nasty pests that damage and can kill our crops. These pesticides are seen by some as very controversial and each year the media find a story to run about bad usage of them - normally how someone thinks that the spraying of these chemicals have caused ill health to them or a pet or wild animal. The farming industry as a whole, seems to get hit by these bad news stories very often and normally they disappear quickly as the allegations are untrue or unprovable.  It is sad when you read these articles, as the UK farmers have to comply with the most strict and comprehensive regulations with anything to do with agri-chemicals. Any chemical that we apply is tested, tested, tested and independently tested by the Government before it is allowed to be registered for use on the farm. The chemical companies’ research and development costs of these chemicals run into the hundreds of millions of pounds per chemical launched in the UK. New chemistry is hard to come by and so farmers know the importance of using them correctly within the regulations to make sure that they are kept on the market for safe use when needed.
Here at E. J. Barker & Sons we consider the importance of protecting the environment against over-use of pesticides and against accidental contamination of watercourses, as paramount. Accidental contamination can be due to unforeseen problems that may occur with any business using chemicals, for example, spillages when filling, or a fire in store, or accidents on roads with the sprayer full.  To minimize any potential problem we try and reduce the risk of them happening. This could be through specialist training, good working practice, voluntary schemes like the National Register of Sprayer operators (NRoSO) and the NSTS annual inspection of our sprayer, basically an MOT for the sprayer.
Improvements in good working practice happen all the time on our farm as we try and better ourselves in all areas of the business. This prompted us to upgrade our farm’s chemical storage and emergency spillage plan in 2007. Our old store was adequate and covered the necessary legal requirements but it did have a few potential problems in my eyes, for instance the spray store was small and we could not buy in bulk or store all the chemical we may need at the busy times of year, all chemical cans had to be unloaded by hand, which was time consuming and bad for one’s back, the sprayer filling area and the store opened out onto a public bridle path that runs through the middle of our yard at Westhorpe and if there was a spillage or overflow the run off would either go down the yard into our pond, or into the farm’s bore hole 5m away, it was a no-brainer in my eyes that it had to be improved.
We looked at different buildings on the farm that we could adapt and move the chemical store to; the most obvious was the old sow pig house. This was ideal as it had an isolated drainage network that meant any liquid falling on and around the building and muck pad next to it, was kept separate from the storm drains, and they emptied into the old slurry lagoon via a pumping system.
We had our location and so we started our research, I took advice from the Environment Agency, our chemical suppler, our agronomist and the local Police and Fire force to make sure what we were to build would be as state of the art as possible, and comply with all the needed regulations - without breaking the bank!  We had just bought a new sprayer which had a larger spraying capacity, so we needed to look at storing more water on site and we also had to create an area to deal with the waste plastic, due to the regulations which require all farm plastic to be recycled. It was required to be stored dry and clean until it was removed from the site. 
We designed a plan of works and worked to a budget. We started the work in Feb 2007 and we had it finished by early April 2007. We built it within budget and recycled water tanks from the piggeries. The new store is very up to date with 20,000L storage of water. This water is predominately mains fed but we also recycle grey water off the roof via a rain harvesting filter and system. There is a gentle sloping filling station where the sprayer parks at filling, which has a submerged pump in a collection tank where, given an emergency when filling, the operator can hit a switch on the wall and divert any spill into a 1000L plastic holding tank to be correctly dealt with. The new store opens on to this area, so no chemical is carried outside the store and the filling area. Inside the store it has an impermeable concrete floor and bund that allows us to store up to 1700L of chemical without chance of all the chemical escaping out of container and breaching the bund. The store has a loading door which allows us to unload the chemical on pallets and place the pallets within the store by use of our telescopic reach handler. The roof is made of tin with wooden supports so that, in case of a fire, the roof would collapse inwards and the solid brick walls would create a furnace effect to burn the chemicals safely at a very high temperature. The walls and roof are well insulated so the inside temperature never drops below freezing, which would damage chemicals or packaging, and it has an extraction vent at top and bottom (above the bund level) to remove any chemical vapours. The shelving is made of metal so it does not absorb liquids and it is all well lit, so that we can read labels, and we store the chemicals by category for ease of identification, always keeping powders and granules above liquid, in case of spillage. Regular stock takes allow us to monitor what we are storing and who long they have been in store so they do not go past the ‘use by date’ which is set out by the Governments industry advisors.
Outside the store we have high levels of security and timed lights and it’s fully weather proof. Along from the store we have our recycling area, which is where we dry cans on a drying rack and store in large bags before they are removed. There is an operator’s office with first aid kit, eye wash station, basin, storage for the correct PPE and any books and information that he needs in his sprayer at any time.
These are all required but most importantly there is no way any chemical spill that occurs at filling or in store could every make its way into the water course. If it got past the spill tank it would end up in the lagoon being diluted to parts per billion with a year’s worth of dirty rain water from that which is collected on the concrete surrounding the building.
Once in the field, Nick, our sprayer operator, follows strict laws and guidelines, so spray drift is minimized by correct setting and timings. Watercourses are protected by grass margins, so chemicals do not find their way into them directly and all spray applications are recorded by Nick and me, so that we have full traceability records of what has been applied, how much, in what conditions and at what time, so nothing is left to chance if a problem arises.
Ironically, the only chemicals that do not get this level of attention are by far the most dangerous on the farm and can only be found under the kitchen sink - and they are bought over the counter in shops and supermarkets!!      BWB


Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Not the best way to cut a hedge in our eyes!!!



Following on from Pat's last entry, this video is an example of how not to cut hedges!!! I feel sorry for any small bird nesting in this stretch of good habitat!!