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, 30 March 2011

A Tosser in the Village?

It didn't get there by itself.
This week has seen the launch of Suffolk, Creating the Greenest County and BBC Radio Suffolk’s annual Spring Clean Suffolk campaign promoted as ‘Don’t be a Tosser.’ This annual campaign involves villages organising litter picks and targeting anti-social behaviour such as graffiti and fly tipping. As a village, Westhorpe has a litter pick once a year and it is always very well supported with over 50 people attending last year and it has given people in the village a great opportunity to show the pride they have in where they live. There is however one person who insists on throwing beer cans out of his car window and it is possible to find cans (usually Carlsberg Special Brew) in Westhorpe, Wyverstone, Finningham, Cotton and Gislingham. As far as I am concerned this is completely unacceptable and unnecessary and I would urge everyone to keep their eyes peeled for cans being ejected from car windows. I have my suspicions that they are coming from a maroon Renault but would welcome any feedback in an attempt to put a stop to this. PJB

Monday, 28 March 2011

News on HLS Permissive and Educational Access funding

Following an earlier Blog post about the loss of access within new HLS agreements we are pleased to report some interesting developments. This press release has been sent out by the local NFU.

David Nunn, Jeremy Squirrell, David Ruffley MP, David Barker, Dr Dan Poulter MP, John Cousins & James Black. 
On Tuesday March 15th a delegation of five Suffolk farmers led by David Barker, all of whom are Countryside Stewardship agreement holders with Natural England, met DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon MP. The farmers were joined by Dr Daniel Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, whose question prompted the meeting, and Mr David Ruffley MP for Bury St Edmunds.
The main purpose of the delegation was to discuss the removal of Permissive and Educational Access from Higher Level Stewardship Schemes (HLS)
The group was delighted to learn from the Minister that his Department had re-appraised Educational Access and funding of visits by school children will now be reinstated under HLS.

During the meeting each agreement holder spoke about their own circumstances and the following points were made.
1) Permissive and Educational Access are a superb way for the general public to access the countryside and engage with the rural environment and farmers.  As such they offer the farming community a real opportunity to deliver benefits to the community at large. The group believed that the announcement by the government to cease funding this type of “public good” was a retrograde step.
2) Farmers whose current agreements are due to end over the next few years face very real difficulties if they wish to continue with permissive access.  Currently Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) rules do not allow access on margins and only allow cutting once every two years, whereas tracks for permissive access often receive up to three cuts per annum.
3) The delegation accepted that in these difficult times farming needed to make a contribution to the Big Society and suggested that if there were treasury constraints access payments could be halved from the present 90p/meter/annum for higher rights and 45p/meter/annum for footpaths.
4) The delegation emphasised the benefits these routes provide toward the health agenda by improving opportunities for people to exercise in the countryside.
5) There are tangible safety benefits delivered by increasing the opportunities for horse riders to exercise off busy roads and permissive routes improve Road Safety.
6) Where the current Permissive routes exist it is a result of careful consideration and they have often been provided to create important links to enhance the Rights of Way network.
7) Under a reformed `Greener CAP` the EU should recognise the wider needs of the general public and not focus simply on the environmental agenda.  The group urged the Minister to press for payments for access to be match funded by the EU, in the same way that other wildlife benefits are.

Richard Benyon had a lot of sympathy for the points made but said the decision to remove support of these types access had been made due to the cost at a time when DEFRA needed to make significant savings.  He reiterated that funding for bio-diversity was match funded by money from Europe whereas the funds for access all came from the UK Treasury.
He gave an undertaking to look at the points the delegation had raised, and was particularly concerned by the conflict between ELS margins and any continued voluntary access.

David Barker agreed with Dr Daniel Poulter that the next step would be for us to arrange a meeting with Geoffrey Van-Orden MEP to see if he can make representation in the European parliament.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Westhorpe Grassland

One of the key aims of our Higher Level Stewardship scheme is increasing the amount and quality of grassland habitat over both the Westhorpe and Great Ashfield farms. With our target species being Grey Partridge (GP) at Westhorpe and Great Crested Newts (GCN) at Great Ashfield the quality of grassland as a food source in winter (GP) and summer (both) and safe nesting habitat (GP) is very important. We have established new grassland through the centre of the farm at Westhorpe and looked to link all of the habitats together with grass margins, new or existing hedges to give wildlife safe movement between habitats. This new grassland is linked to our existing grassland around Westhorpe Hall where we have 2 very different grassland habitats requiring different management. The Westhorpe Village Green is a County Wildlife Site (http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/Environment/Biodiversity/CountyWildlifeSites.htm) and is managed as a species rich wildflower meadow but the football pitch in front of Westhorpe Hall is just rough grassland. In previous years we have taken a low quality hay crop from it or just topped it late in the summer. Last year we took the decision to do nothing and see how the habitat developed. The result has been that tall, new grass has collapsed over the old grass shading out the base layer creating a thick thatch of dead grass which is the perfect habitat for small mammals such as Voles and shrews to live. The thicker grass creates tussocks and these combined with the thatch creates runs and a feed source on the new growth of the soft palatable grasses. This habitat becomes an ideal food source for Barn Owls and Kestrels which are hunting the small mammals. The football pitch in front of the hall has 2 Barn Owl boxes and last year 3 kestrels fledged out of one of the boxes. Over the winter and now we are seeing Barn Owls hunting there in the evenings so are pleased that we have been able to manage the habitat correctly and hopeful that this summer there will be Barn Owls breeding somewhere on the farm. PJB

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Spring Oats and Grass seed Planting

A new age has arrived which will add a new dimension to our Blogging; we have bought a Cisco Flip mini camcorder which allows us to make high definition video and load them straight up on the blog with minimal trouble!
So here goes, my first attempt at Blog video editing; this short film shows our new grass seed harrow working in the field.

The grass seed establishment is slightly different to any other crop we grow as it is under sown into another crop, in our case spring oats. The spring oats are planted using our normal drill set up with the crawler and big drill first, but due to this machinery being very fuel thirsty and expensive to run we have invested in a new seeding unit that is much cheaper to run.
The seeding unit uses a metering wheel at the back which turns as the tractor moves forward; this indicates to the on board computer that seed is required to be released at a pre calibrated rate. A motor drives a variable speed motor which turns inside the seed unit that releases the seed at the correct rate down the pipes. A fan blows the seed out of the pipe as the tractor moves along which is broadcast over the full width of six metres onto the soil surface. The finger tines then just scratch the very top of the field and the seed is just mixed into the shallow part of the topsoil. So the oats are still nicely place slightly deeper and undisturbed. The whole field is then rolled to conserve the moisture left and allows good soil to seed contact that helps maintain good germination of both oats and grass.
The oats are seen as the main crop for the rest of the year and grow over the top of the grass and they are harvested in August. When they are harvested and the straw is cleared we are left with a young established grass sward in the stubble which becomes our main grass crop for the next two harvests. BWB    

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A buzzing in my ears!

After a difficult morning of new machine troubles (which did get fixed in the end!) I was on the phone by the pond in our yard and all I could hear was a buzzing! My phone was fine but when I looked up the Willow tree next to the pond had bloomed and the catkins were full of early spring pollen and nectar. I think ever honey bee in the area must have been busy collecting the nectar and moving pollen from catkin to catkin. I then noticed Queen Bumblebees buzzing around doing the same on the higher branches and then to my amazement I saw my first butterfly of 2011. A small tortoiseshell sunning its wings while sipping at the sweet nectar.
Spring must be here!!  BWB

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

  • The population is wide spread over the UK but absent from Ireland
  • It can grow to 8cm, and is generally brown or olive brown and young specimens are often brick coloured. The skin is warty and often appears dry.
  • Glands in the skin contain powerful toxins and would-be predators quickly learn not to attempt to eat toads.Unfortunately for the toads however, a few predators, such as grass snakes and hedgehogs, don't seem to be deterred.
  • The Common Toad can be found in almost any habitat and is common in gardens.
  • It prefers larger water bodies in which to breed and, because toxins are also present in the skin of the tadpoles, they are able to breed in ponds and lakes containing fish which learn to avoid the distasteful tadpoles. Common Toads congregate at breeding ponds in early April but for the rest of the year will wander well away from water as they are far more tolerant of dry conditions than the Common Frog. 
  • Common Toads feed on any moving prey small enough for them to swallow. 
  • They are most active at night when they will wander about in search of food. If they find a good source of food they can become quite sedentary.   
  • Their life cycle is similar to that of the Common Frog, spawn is laid in strings (not clumps like the Common Frog) and the tadpoles are black and often move about in shoals.
  • During mating, the male clutches the female from behind in a tight embrace. He fertilises the long, triple-stranded strings of eggs as she lays them among the waterweeds.
  • The toadlets emerge in August usually after heavy rain and in huge numbers. At this stage of their lives they are extremely small.
  • Common toads can live up to 40 years.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Common Frog

Caption Competition?(Answers in the comment box) Found this frog today and it looks to have lost its binoculars or trying to impersonate Pat watching for birds!!

So the Common Frog (Rana temporaria),

Possibly our most familiar amphibian, the Common Frog is distributed throughout Britain and Ireland and can be found in almost any habitat where suitable breeding ponds can be found. Garden ponds are now extremely important for Common Frogs and many populations in suburban areas depend on them. Any pond large or small make a massive difference to wildlife, not just amphibian but the full ecosystem.
Adults can grow to almost 8cm and are generally some shade of brown or olive brown in colour with a dark patch behind the eye and bands of darker colour on the back legs. Most individuals have irregular black markings on the back and two narrow lighter stripes running along each side of the back. Coloration is extremely variable and in recent years yellow, pink and orange individuals have been reported.
The life cycle of the Common Frog is familiar to most people; spawning takes place on average in March (get checking your local ponds), the tadpoles develop throughout the summer and emerge as froglets in wet weather in August or September. Well-grown tadpoles are faintly speckled with gold which distinguishes them easily from the black tadpoles of the Common Toad. Common Frogs feed on a variety of invertebrate prey which is mostly caught at night. The frog’s skin is smooth and needs to be moist at all times which limits this species to habitats close to fresh water or habitats that remain damp throughout the summer.
Some more general facts.........
  • In Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Common Frog is protected only in as much as sale and trade in any form is prohibited.
  • Frog bones form a growth ring every year when the frog is hibernating. Scientists can count these rings to discover the age of the frog.
  • Frogs lay up to 4,000 eggs at one time. The jelly around the eggs helps to keep them warm. The temperature inside a clump of eggs is often much higher than the temperature of the pond water around them.
  • Amphibians must shed their skin as they enlarge in size. The old skin is discarded like a piece of clothing that has become too tight (I know the feeling!!). Usually the shed skin is eaten.
  • Frogs absorb water through their skin so they don't need to drink.
  • Frogs use a variety of ways to attract a mate such as courtship calls, body colour and limb movements.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Spring beans going in the ground.

With the nice dry weather over the past week, the sun has dried the top off well and so the drill in out putting in our crop of seed tic beans. These are a spring break crop, they are a small broad bean used in a number of markets for human feed and livestock feed. We grow the seed to be used for the main crop next year which means that we have to grow the beans to even higher standards but this is reflected in the price that we sell them for under contract.
We are growing 21 ha and the drill is set up to drill 160kg/ha of seed. We will not roll the beans in as they is enough soil to seed contact already but we will follow up with a herbicide spray soon after drilling as the spectrum of chemicals are very limited in removing weeds from spring sown pulses like beans and peas. We will just then wait and hope for a bit of rain to get them off to the best possible start. BWB  

Thursday, 10 March 2011

If only it was so simple!!

(I do apologies for some of the language)

This is a classic sketch from The Mitchell and Webb Situation, made me laugh but if only all his money making schemes were right! Don't see many milk producers making "a f***ing fortune!!" but they have got the costume of a typical older farmer bang on!!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Great Spotted Woodpecker

Dendrocopus major
There are only two black and white woodpeckers in the UK, the Great and the Lesser Spotted.
The Great Spotted is the size of a blacksbird and the Lesser Spotted is the size of a Robin.
The male Great Spotted Woodpecker has a red patch on the back of his head and both the male and females have red 'underpants'.
22 - 24cm
70 - 100gms
Wooded areas and on open ground with scattered mature trees. Resident in UK and present throughout the year.
April to July. They dig out tree chambers at about 3m above the ground or will use specialist nest boxes.
1 brood of 4-7 eggs. Incubation period is 10-13 days.
Insects, fat bars, seeds and peanuts.
Call is a loud 'tchick' with song replaced by rapid drumming for attracting a mate or to mark a territory.

Although spectacular garden visitors, Great Spotted Woodpeckers can be an aggressive nuisance to other, smaller species. They often dominate other birds at feeders and will raid nest boxes and eat nestlings.
As an opposite side to this is the fact that they are endearing parents, frequently seen teaching their young how to use feeders.
BTO Statistics
The population of Great Spotted Woodpeckers increased substantially during the 70's partly due to Dutch elm disease. Nesting success seems very high but natural sites are hard to monitor and with the constant clearing of dead wood, new nest sites may become rare.