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, 20 April 2011

The Blackcap

Sylvia atricapilla
A stocky, grey-bodied warbler with a distinctive black cap. The female's plumage is browner and the cap is reddish-brown rather than the black of the male.
Although migratory, it can be seen all year round in Britain as winter migrants to France, Spain and beyond are replaced by incoming migrants from Austria and Germany.
13 - 15cm
14 - 20gms
Woodland, parks and large, mature gardens.
A neat cup-shaped structure at low level made from grass, roots, small twigs and moss, lined with fine grass and hair.
One or two clutches of 4-6 buff-coloured eggs with brown marks in April-June.
The Blackcap has a varied diet consisting mainly of insects but will also eat worms and snails, nectar and pollen. Fruit and berries are consumed in autumn and winter. Readily take sunflower hearts and peanut cakes.
A melodic warble, the Blackcap's song starts with a jumble of harsh notes, followed by a series of rich, fluting tones which can include parts of other birds' song, such as Nightingale, Blackbird, and Song Thrush. Little wonder the song of the Blackcap is often considered the best of all bird songs.
Blackcaps like territories with a mix of shrubby undergrowth for nesting, and tall trees which provide feeding and the concealed perches they prefer as song-posts. In winter, they will venture into mature gardens to supplement their diet of fruit and berries with table scraps and peanuts from hanging feeders.
They are not very social birds and will more usually be seen individually rather than in groups.
BTO Statistics
Their Green List status means that there is no identified threat to the population's status, as their 590,000 breeding territories would indicate.
The male Blackcap starts building several nests from which the female chooses one and then finishes its construction herself. Incubation takes 11-12 days with the young remaining in the nest for between 10 - 14 days. There are estimated to be around 930,000 breeding territories in the UK.

Friday, 15 April 2011

1 Yellowhammer, 2 Yellowhammer, 3, 4 and 5!!

Well, we have carried on stocking up our feeding station back of the farm and the birds are using it to feed on a regular basis. They are all preparing for breeding so they need to be at a good weight ready for a successful spring and summer.

The video above is about 6 minutes long as I did not want to edit it to much, the first section is close up and the second half is further away, but how many birds can you count? 

I got up to 134 birds coming down to feed!
(Hopefully the upload will not reduce the quality to much!!)BWB

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Wild on Wednesdays

This week was my turn for the Countryside slot on Radio Suffolk and can be listened to on -
Go to 1hr 33 mins to hear it and the picture below will become clear. (PJB)
Mary Tudor & Charles Brandon

Monday, 11 April 2011

Trips to Warwick Castle, DHL, Land Rover & LEAF

This cow had an itch so how does she scratch it? 

It made us chuckle while we had a trip away from the farm last week.

The sun has been shining and the farm is looking good but, yes, I wouldn’t be a farmer without a quick moan about the weather, so I will get it in now……RAIN, PLEASE RAIN!! The freshly drilled spring crops need a good soaking, as do all the winter crops.  Our heavy soils still look strong but if we don’t get a downpour soon, the plants will start to show signs of drought stress and this would mean a drop on yield and quality. I have already heard reports of over-stressed crops on the lighter soils on the coast.  We will have to keep our fingers crossed but then, knowing the British weather, once rain starts it probably won’t stop!
Patrick and I have enjoyed this sunny weather as we have been out around the farm seeing the new arrivals of spring but we have also been on the road for a few trips in the last couple of weeks.
Warwick Castle for lunch was the first outing.  We were invited by Farmers Weekly for a winners’ luncheon.  Back in October, we were lucky enough to be awarded the title of Farmers Weekly Countryside Farmer of the Year.  This lunch was an opportunity for all the winners to meet each other again and talk about what it has meant to their businesses, as well as meeting the Farmers Weekly team and Sponsors of all the awards.  We did get collared with a video interview; clips are being published on the Farmers Weekly website.  If you want to see more, go to http://www.fwi.co.uk/video/fwiawards/.
It was a really enjoyable day and nice to meet the guys from NWF Agriculture who are next year’s sponsors for our category.  We will be joining them when we judge this year’s entries in June and are both looking forward to the judging experience, as it will be nice to have the boot on the other foot and ask all the leading questions that we have answered before when we have been judged!
Then, a week later, we were bombing back up the A14 and M6 for another visit. This time we had been invited to have a look behind the scenes of DHL Supply Chain at the Land Rover Factory in Solihull. We had been invited as part of a new discussion group, called ‘26/46’, being run collectively by Farmers Guardian, DHL Supply Chain, Lloyds TSB & Bank of Scotland and Waitrose.  It has been set up to bring the next generation of farmers together to bridge the gap between Young Farmers and future responsibilities like  NFU, Agricultural Societies etc.  We met up with eight farmers: two livestock farmers from Carlisle, two arable and two mixed farmers from Stamford as well as the editor of the Farmers Guardian and two representatives from DHL Supply Chain.     
The general manager of DHL Supply Chain at the Land Rover Factory took us through everything that DHL have done to help Land Rover become more efficient and streamlined in the production of their vehicle range. DHL are responsible for the delivery of all the parts to the factory as well as the distribution of the parts from pallet to individual stations on the production line. In total, the GM was managing 630+ employees (60% employed by DHL and 40% sourced from agencies), 1332 inbound deliveries of 4591 parts (with some parts having a set of, in some cases, 16 different derivatives of the same part) to produce 130,000 Land Rover vehicles a year, all of which are already sold once they drop off the production line.  At the factory, they only have enough space to store 0.9 days worth of stock and another day’s worth will already be en route to the factory for delivery in the next 24hrs: basically, a logistical nightmare!
We had a guided tour of the Discovery and Range Rover Sport production lines. This was a real eye opener:  forklifts flying back and forth, or, as they described them, ‘the Big Yellow and Red Monsters’, dragging Land Rover up to speed. They explained how, due to the number of buy-outs that had occurred with the Land Rover Brand over the past few years, that it has had a massive bearing on the efficiency of the production line. There had been no capital investments into anything and it showed.  Energy efficiency was poor, the Solihull site electricity bill being over £75million per year.  This works out at £600 per vehicle made. No green measures are in place – a real oversight, considering the acres of building roofs that are left unutilised for solar power, rainwater collection, wind turbines etc. The logistics and parts coordination is still done on a paper and button system, much to DHL’s dismay. When a car is being put together and rolled along the production line, the spec of that vehicle is just a paper print-out taped to the chassis and workers on the line have to refer to this to make sure they put the correct customer options on!  When a station is running short of parts, it hits a button on the wall that triggers a DHL forklift to bring them more of that part.  DHL explained that with the computer system they run for other car producers they could barcode and organise the whole system to eliminate any human error of reading the spec and part number sheet and anyone forgetting to hit the parts replenishing button in good time etc. this would reduce the numbers of employees needed, reduce the forklift fleet and reduce the ‘misfits’, which is when the wrong part is fitted to the wrong car.
It will be interesting to see if Land Rover introduces this new system.  They are in the middle of a complete production line review and overhaul that may see one line completely move site, as the demand for the vehicles does not reduce, even in the current greening climate of everyone trying to reduce their carbon footprints – interesting, considering the 5 litre Petrol V8’s that are being sent out in some of the Range Rover Sports!
After the tour of the factory, we all came together for an open discussion on what we had seen and if there was anything that we could take away and implement in our businesses. I think all of us had taken something away from the visit.  The need to keep technology up to speed and not be scared to invest in new technology came up as well as a number of points. Communication was another well used word. DHL were striving to communicate better with their customer, Land Rover, as well as communicating better with their own employees and the employees on the production line. We could appreciate the need to understand also what benefits could be gained from out-sourcing the best and most precise help from other specialised companies, so that the core of your business is not compromised but improved. It was a really interesting visit and we look forward to the next planned trip later this year.
A day later, after a few beers in the evening, we attended an Integrated Farm Management Technical Day, hosted by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) at Harper Adams Agricultural College. The day looked at how farmers can adopt new techniques and science to maximise their profits from crop and livestock enterprises without impacting on the environment. We looked at anaerobic digestate (biofertiliser) for improved soil quality, integration  of specific wildlife habitat into a farming system, sustainable irrigation, reduced environmental impact from pig production, reducing the carbon ‘hoof’ print of dairy cows, choosing the right cultivation technique related to soil condition, assessing river conditions on your farm and how to host a successful farm visit.
It was a thought-provoking day, especially looking at different areas of farming that we do not have to worry about on a day to day basis, related to the livestock side of the industry. It was also reassuring to hear in the other areas that were discussed, that Patrick and I are already implementing all of the techniques but we also came away with some new tweaks to the techniques that we could try to use.
LEAF is an organisation with which we have recently become involved.  They do a lot of good work with farmers to educate and implement wildlife techniques on a farm scale. They have a network of demonstration farms throughout the country, which they see as delivering this message and use them to host and organise visits. We have been asked to become one of these demonstration farms and are currently going through the process of application. We met one of the demonstration farmers on the day who is also a keen Blogger: Jake Freestone is the farm manager at Overbury farms in Worcestershire, he farms sheep and arable, so check out his blog:  http://farmerjakef.blogspot.com/
All in all three very interesting trips that has got us thinking on how we can improve our own farm business in more ways than one…..maybe a V8 Range Rover! BWB

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A Snake in the Grass

Currently there is a very special plant in flower on Westhorpe Village Green. This is a Snake's Head Fritillary, which is Britain's only native Fritillary species. It is reported in Martin Sandford and Richard Fisk's recent publication 'A Flora of Suffolk' that they are only found on four sites in Suffolk which are all Suffolk Wildlife Trust nature reserves or wildflower meadows and are classified as nationally scarce. The origins of this plant are unclear but it is the third year in a row it has flowered in Westhorpe. These fritillarys have an unmistakable chequer pattern to the flower. At the moment there are also very large numbers of cowslips, primroses and other wild flowers in flower and are all protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. For more information on the Snakes Head Fritillary visit the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Website. PJB

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Marvellous March

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), the first 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

The Goldfinch

Carduelis carduelis
Arguably one of the most colourful British finches, the Goldfinch is easily identified from other finches by its striking plumage.
Similar to a Blue Tit in size, they have a buffish coloured back with black and white wings that have a distinctive yellowy gold flash, which becomes more obvious in flight. The head has a red, black and white patterning although juveniles don't display this until after their first moult, about two months after fledging.
12 - 14cm
14 - 17gms
Gardens, orchards, open and rough ground.
April to August. Small cup shaped nest made of wool, moss and grass, usually found at the end of thin outer branches nest lined with moss, grass and feathers.
2-3 broods of 5-6 spotted and streaked bluish eggs, incubated for 11-13 days.
Natural food is insects and seeds such as dandelions, thistles and lavender. From the feeder they will eat nyjer, sunflower hearts, black sunflower seeds and peanuts.
The call is often heard before you see them. It is typically said that it has a liquid quality and is a tinkling 'tsswitt-witt-witt'.
Appropriately known collectively as a charm, they have an airy, bouncy flight and flit around on open waste ground in flocks of 6-12 in search of weed seeds. One of the most common images of a Goldfinch is of them hanging upside down (like a member of the Tit family) on a teasel head, demonstrating their agility. Planting teasels and leaving a 'wild' area within your garden is one of the best methods of attracting Goldfinch and if you're not an avid gardener, they are a great excuse for having a dandelion lawn!
They are present throughout the year and are sociable birds who travel around in small flocks that defend food supplies from other species. The only time that there may be any conflict within a flock is during the breeding season when food supplies are more valuable.