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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.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Pied Wagtail

Motacilla alba yarrellii
A slender black, white and grey bird. The female is greyer than the male and the juvenile is more of a yellowish-grey. Both sexes have an awkward, undulating flight, but their black and white tail makes them striking and obvious in flight.
The Pied Wagtail is the British sub-species of the White Wagtail that is found throughout the rest of Europe. They are not easy to tell apart, but the Pied Wagtail is essentially a darker species.
16.5 - 18cm
17 - 25gms
Open areas such as lawns, golf courses, picnic areas, supermarket car parks.
April-August. Uses holes in buildings, thick vegetation, old nests of other species or the open style of nest box. Made of leaves, twigs, moss and grass and lined with feathers and hair.
2 broods of 3-5 whitish eggs with dark spots. Incubation is 11-13 days.
Insects, peanut granules, mealworms, grated cheese, hi-energy ground blend, pinhead oatmeal.
Plain song that is a high pitched 'seel-vit'. Their main method of marking territories is through visual display.
The Pied Wagtail has adapted well to living alongside humans and most of its preferred habitats bring it into close contact with people. Although they get their name from routinely wagging their tails whilst standing still, they can often be recognised because of their characteristic darting, flitting, running and chasing after their natural food, insects.
They can be attracted to gardens by mealworms, peanut granules or even something as simple as grated cheese. Most Pied Wagtails 'stay put' all year but some from northern areas may move south in cold weather.
Large roosts of Pied Wagtails are frequently seen in trees on the edge of supermarket car parks etc., which are warmer that the equivalent places in the countryside.
BTO Statistics
The Pied Wagtail is a species in the Medium BTO Alert list. They have severely declined from waterways since the 1970's, which may indicate habitat problems. Approximately 10% of gardens have a resident Pied Wagtail but most of these reports have been taken from a cold winter spell.

Friday, 24 June 2011


Hirundo rustica
Swallows are an attractive species with a glossy blue/black upper body and white underparts. They have distinctive red faces and throats plus long tail 'streamers' - male streamers are longer.
17 - 19cm
16 - 25g
Mixed farmland, often near cattle.
Usually on shelves or beams in buildings such as barns.
4-5 red spotted white eggs.
Flies, bees, butterflies and moths.
Sweet twittering song, a 'swit, swit, swit' call.
A graceful and elegant bird often seen swooping over water looking for insects, the Swallow arrives in the UK in March after a winter in Africa. Before migrating back to Africa huge flocks will gather together on telegraph wires.
BTO Statistics
Swallows are amber-listed as they have suffered moderate declines in recent years. The Swallow's vulnerability is thought to relate to a reduction in insect populations - their main source of food - and a shortage of suitable nesting sites.
Nests are cup or half-cup shaped and built with a lot of mud. The incubation period lasts for 14-15 days, fledglings leave the nest 19-21 days after hatching. They are still fed by their parents for another week. Parents are very protective of their young and will mob any predators including cats and magpies and drive them away from the nest.

Swallows eat and drink on the wing. However, if there is a shortage of flying insects they will take small invertebrates from the ground.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Best for... Conservation

It was a suprise but very pleasing to open up this weeks Farmers Weekly and be named the 'Best for... Conservation' blog in their feature on social media and the best agricultural bloggers. We have only been writing the blog for 6 months and have really enjoyed the challenge of writing about aspects of our farm that we find interesting. In the last week we have passed the 5000 hit mark. It is always very pleasing (and usually quite suprising) to meet people who enjoy reding the blog and with that in mind I would like to invite anyone who has any questions about farming or any countryside issues that you would like us to write about to send us an email at events@ejbarker.co.uk. I was also pleased to see Farmer Will's blog named the best for photography, this is a blog that we follow and the photos are excellent. PJB

Thursday, 16 June 2011

LEAF Open Farm Sunday and Cereals

Last Sunday LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) coordinated an event across the whole country call Open Farm Sunday, the idea is for LEAF members and LEAF Demonstration farms to open their farm gates to the general public. LEAF are a very dynamic company working to ‘Link the Environment and Farming’ they do tremendous work educating farmers, teachers, school children and many other age and social groups with the importance of the environment and where their food comes from.  Our farm is a LEAF member and carrys out a LEAF Audit each year, this Audit looks at our business through a series of questions identify any areas that we could improve to make it more beneficial to the environment.

Jason and Katharine Salisbury own and run Whitegate Farm, Creeting St. Mary where they have their cheese making business called Suffolk Farmhouse Cheese (http://www.suffolkcheese.co.uk/), they are also LEAF members and hosted their second Open Farm Sunday. Patrick and I were invited by them to help out and talk to the general public about our business and work we do. We had a great morning with them as the general public came through the gate and started to get up and close with farming. Jason and Katharine had organised a full program of activities including farm tours, tractor and trailer rides, name the calf competition, basket weavers, wool spinners, children’s painting and colouring in exercises and of course cheese tasting! We take our hats off to them for organising such a full day and to get over a thousand people on to their farm is great and next year we hope to be helping them again to carry on with their success.

A couple of days later we were at Cereals the premier pure arable industry show and we popped in to see LEAF on there stand. We talked about our experience of helping on the Open Farm Sunday and although the weather was not very inviting they estimate that across the country over 100,000 people visited an open farm which is great news for LEAF and the industry as hopefully those people would have reconnected with where their food actually comes from and see what a good job British farmers do.
Cereals was another full day for us with lots to see and people to meet. Networking, chatting and looking out for new ideas was the aim of the day and we manage just about to get round and see everyone we had hoped. It is an impressive day out full show casing the changing face of this high tech industry.
We got home to discover our new machinary investment had been delivered, this investment was triggered by the dry spring and the deep cracks in the soil from lack of rain. The second hand cultivator will be used at shallow depths in preparing the fields for seed planting next year, we hope that it will reduce fuel usage and man hours in preperation for the autumn drilling. BWB


Phylloscopus collybita
The Chiffchaff is a small, olive-brown warbler, very similar in appearance to the Willow Warbler but distinguished by its song and legs that are normally black, rather than the brown of the Willow Warbler.
As with the Cuckoo, the Chiffchaff's name is a rough description of its two-tone song.
10 - 11cm
6 - 9gms
Mature open woodlands or parks, with taller trees and ground cover for nesting.
A grassy or leafy ball constructed on, or near to the ground.
5-7 white eggs with a few light purple/grey marks.
Predominantly small insects but, when in season, some fruit and berries. Will also take peanut cake, particularly if rubbed into the bark of a tree to avoid competition with more aggressive birds.
A repeated "chiff chaff" song with an emphatic "hweet" call.
Unremarkable in appearance at first sight, the Chiffchaff is about the size of Blue Tit, with brownish-olive upper-parts, off-white under-parts and a yellowish hint to the breast. Best separated from Willow Warbler by the distinctive "chiff chaff" song, the darker legs and, when perched, the habit of flicking its tail downwards.
BTO Statistics
The status of the Chiffchaff is currently green.
Likes deciduous and mixed woodland, stands of trees, parks and mature gardens where there is thick undergrowth.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Who has the Farming ‘X’ Factor? Our Farm Being Judged and the Boot on the Other Foot as Judges!

Who has the Farming ‘X’ Factor?  Our Farm Being Judged and the Boot on the Other Foot as Judges!

Farming is an industry of pride; landowners like things done to their standard and are always looking over their shoulder or neighbours’ fields to see how they compare with theirs. As much as we avoid admitting it, we are a competitive bunch of people, trying to better ourselves from year to year and also our neighbours; with the normal first questions being, “How much rain have you had lately?”  Or “What’s your wheat looking like?  Yields looking good?  Much Black grass this year?”  All are questions asked between farmers as they try and size up the local competition but at the end of the day we are doing it for the same reason and that is feeding as many mouths as possible by doing the best job we can. This competitiveness has been tapped into by local farm businesses and best crop competitions run by Agricultural Associations throughout the UK and by other National organisations and companies like FWAG and Farmers Weekly.  
I never really knew too much about these sorts of competitions before I came back to the farm full time, although there are photos of Rosie and Patrick as babies sitting in a very large trophy when the farm won the Suffolk Agricultural Associations Large Farm award in 1980.  As Patrick and I started out on our fledgling farming careers, we looked at these competitions as a way of bench-marking ourselves against other farms and farmers that we knew and recognised as forward thinkers in the industry in our area. So for the past 4 years we have entered a number of these competitions with a range of success.
I think these competitions are very useful, they make you analyse your business from the outside in. First step is that you put yourself in the judges’ shoes as you walk or drive round the farm with a very self critical eye. How can we improve this? Is this the best way to do that? Am I giving this area enough credit? Can I justify all my previous actions? All questions however big and small, pop into my head and things are highlighted before the judges arrive which either get fixed quick or left for a more long term solution. On the week of the judging we have a tidy up, we like a tidy yard throughout the year but we do have a real good spring clean and de-clutter of scrap and rubbish, this normally coincides with our music event and farm walk season as well. On the day of the judging we have a quick sweep round of visible rubbish and pull together a farm information booklet specifically aimed at what the judges may be looking for.  Depending on the competition, the judges arrive and a quick coffee is offered in our new meeting room in the office (with the walls covered in pictures of the farm and wildlife of which we are so proud) and the process begins. We would give a brief history of the farm, how the farm has progressed in the past years and where it is today. We usually then walk through the workshop, building and chemical store before heading off round the farm in our trucks looking at the crops and conservation work on the ground.
The judges are invited to do this job by whoever is organising the competition and are much respected in their fields.  We like to know a bit of history about them, as this will give us a bit of a heads up on what the questions might be! We have had some really interesting people judge our farm and we learn something every time we go through this process. They are normally accompanied by a sponsor and steward who are there to make the day run as smoothly as possible. I was once a steward when I was still at college and it gave me an insight into the details that the judges were looking for and I would love to be a fly on the roof of the car when the judges leave our farm.
 Our first real success in a competition was the Suffolk FWAG Kerr Cup in 2009, a local competition looking at integrating framing and conservation. Patrick and I approached it as we would an exam question in the application and the visit. A tight time schedule with military detail was required to make sure we got round everything we wanted to show the judges. Our case was helped when two Grey Partridges jumped out of our restoration grass meadow and a Kingfisher flew across a pond as we pulled up. We impressed the judges so much that they pushed us to enter the National Silver Lapwing Competition run by FWAG. We had never heard much about this award and we approached it with the same exam question technique in the application. We then went through a 30min phone interview (which turned into 50mins as we just talked and talked about all areas they asked) We were then announced as being in the top 6 with a two and an half hour visit to follow. Again, with a similar slight innocence, we took the judges on a full tour, points after points, questions after questions. I say innocence as we did not really think we were doing anything out of the ordinary, we had just applied our ideas that we thought were correct and helpful towards the direction farming was heading. We were the first of the six to be judged and we thought by the end we would be forgotten about as we had read the profiles of the other five impressive entries. A bit of a waiting game followed.  The award ceremony was in the House of Commons and we organised a bus for the family and headed down there. I had gone full circle in my head from yes we have a great chance to no, not a chance. I remember the evening well, photos of the family by the river, meeting and greeting all the high brass on the guest list beforehand, thinking, ”How on earth have I ended up here after leaving college five years earlier?”  As finalists we had seats reserved at the front but being us we were caught at the back ‘networking’ and so missed the sit down so we stood sweaty palmed behind everyone gathered as the judges started to give the presentation of the six finalists. Again we were first up then a long list of impressive farms followed, my heart was saying this would be great but my head was saying no! It came to the announcement in third…..No, not us, oh well! In Second….No, Oh well! Look gracious in defeat, Patrick turned to me and said we’ve done it! I wasn’t so sure…. Winners…..Brian and Patrick Barker! At that moment, I slapped Patrick on the back shouting, “Get in there!” Our family jumped up and then as Patrick marched up to receive the award I followed was ambushed with a massive hug from a tearful Derek Moore (a great friend of the family, bird and wildlife enthusiast, who has helped us no end and fellow blogger http://www.derekbirdbrain.blogspot.com/) I got to the stage in the end, with a massive smile and a feeling of pride in my chest. The rest of the evening and bus ride back was all a bit of a blur! But a great experience for the whole family.
The Farmers Weekly Awards were the next unknown.  Patrick and I had said we thought we should have quiet year and move the farm on before doing anything else in the limelight but we were kindly nominated by two people, so we thought we would go for it and see what happened. Again the same approach with a few added details from our last judging experience, form application filled in and then a successful short listing in the top three. This time a three hour judging visit! The judges arrived but four of them not three as expected, this meant that we could not go round in one truck so we split with two in mine and two in Patricks. This was ok until the judges decided to swap over after each stop and so we got a double grilling.  I think the same questions were asked of both of us. This one we felt went Ok but we had failed to mention a few things that we had wanted to. Again, the awards were a whole family affair:  two tables bought for dinner down at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. I had again gone full circle from yes to no, so I decided to utilise the free champagne reception to make my self feel better….. The Grosvenor Grand Hall is a stunning room, 1500 people filling the floor. We had a welcome video message from Prince Charles and Lisa Tarbuck as the presenter. They describe it as the Oscars of the farming world and it definitely had the feel of it. When we were announced as winner my legs nearly gave way (not due to the Champagne I may add!) but it was a long walk to the stage and few snaps with Lisa and then off, wow we had won another one! Let the celebrations begin…..my lovely kind Aunt set the tone for the rest of the evening in great style with more bubbles! The next morning was not so much fun, especially the stuffy underground trip! One member of our group actually never made it out of the hotel and checked in for another night but I won’t mention names!   
All these experiences have opened so many doors for us and we have met some very influential people on the back of it. We have pushed our business and profile wherever possible, as we want to be the next ambassadors for the farming industry in our life time.  We have made a good start but have to maintain it now.
Last week the judging boot was on the other foot as Patrick and I were invited by the East of England Agricultural Association to judge their Farm Business Competition Supreme Countryside Conservation Champion Class. It was a bit of pay back time asking the same thought provoking questions that we have been asked. It was a great honour and a very enjoyable couple of days and we saw some tremendous farms. It was a difficult decision as the four farms had such different approaches all with proven success. We did come to a winner in the end and much deserved. We thank the East Of England Agricultural Association for inviting us to be judges, their hospitality was second to none and we had a great experience.
Next week we are off doing the same for the Farmers Weekly Awards.  As past winners, we get the opportunity to judge the entries this year. If the standard is as high as we saw last week then we will be doing a lot of head scratching to find the overall winner. You will have to wait until November before you find out the results as our lips are sealed!  We are both really looking forward to the experience after the warm up this week and as we have just been judged ourselves again yesterday.  Incidentally, we do manage a bit of work in between all these things!  But so much can be gained from just sending in an application to see how your farm stacks up!   BWB

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


Pollen & Nectar Mix
May has seen a wide variety of wildlife about the farm but a limited amount of rain. We started the month with a Tawny accidentally caught in a magpie trap which was released unharmed. This Tawny Owl was caught the same way and ringed in April 2009 so good to see that it is still alive and well 2 years later. Throughout May evidence of successful breeding has been noticed, fledged Blackbirds, Robins, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Starlings, Long Tailed, Blue Great and Coal tits have been spotted on and around the garden and office bird feeders and moorhen chicks and ducklings have been darting from cover to the pond and back. They will be trying to avoid the Sparrowhawk which flew through the yard (14th). Barn Owls and Buzzards are being seen almost every day around the farm and village so we are very hopeful of breeding success. Turtle Doves have been spotted around the farm through the month and a Spotted Flycatcher was calling in the churchyard on the 19th. On the same day 3 Shelduck flew over the farm which is the first record for the farm for that colourful species of duck. A pair of Grey Partridges was sitting on the front lawn on the 14th and another pair was seen at Kiln Farm on the 21st.

The next evening at Kiln Farm we were able to count 100+ Great Crested Newts in the garden pond and heard a Barn Owl calling in the darkness.

There has been a lot of activity around the ponds at Westhorpe Hall as they have held their water level very well. A broad bodied chaser was laying eggs in the pond on the 29th and common damselfly can be seen with almost every visit. The area of pollen and nectar mix has been attracting butterflies most regularly seen are common blues and speckled wood. A Kingfisher has bee seen perched above the pond in the aptly Pond Meadow and the pollen and nectar mix in the middle of the farm has burst into flower and is full of many different species of insect and bumblebees.

I have also been able to visit all of the Barn Owl boxes and have ringed two Tawny Owl chicks, 3 jackdaw chicks and have two female kestrels sitting on eggs in different boxes. Outside of Westhorpe I have seen pheasant chicks in Pakenham, fox cubs in Gislingham and House Martins, Swifts and Swallows over Stowmarket, Gazeley and Rickinghall and a female Black Redstart in La Rochelle, France. All in all a busy month but hopefully June will show many more breeding successes and an indication of whether our habitats developments can sustain population increases and the pressures of parents feeding hungry young.

Lets go fly a kite!!

What a start to the day!!! On deck 730ish like most days and standing in the office garden talking to Patrick when he looks up and says "Blimey, RED KITE". For once I had my camera close by and stood in the office garden and took these pictures as it just casual soared over us and then disappeared. BWB

Monday, 6 June 2011

Baby Buzzards

Buzzards have been present in Westhorpe since 2008 and successfully fledged one chick in 2009. On Friday 3rd June 2011 two healthy chicks were ringed in a nest in an ash tree in woodland in Westhorpe. The adults are a well established pair and are seen most days above and around the farm and village. These chicks are the fourth and fifth buzzards ever ringed in Suffolk and hopefully within two months they will be soaring on the thermals above Suffolk. The chicks were ringed by Patrick Barker and Chris McIntyre and without local tree surgeon Matthew Allen’s climbing expertise it would not have been possible.

DHL AgriTeam drop in for a visit

Back in January we had the pleasure of attending the Oxford Farming Conference as Scholars Sponsored by DHL AgriTeam. DHL of course are a huge worldwide specialist logistic business, recognisable by their famous yellow and red brand that we all see dotted about on vans, lorries and adverts like at the Monaco Grand Prix. They have just started to break in to the farming Industry, Openfield supplying wheat for Hovis bread was a big contract they secured last year and now they have gone on and picked up new contracts across the county and more locally. This year they have taken over logistics for Muntons at Stowmarket with farm collection and then delivery of processed stock away from Stowmarket. They have a proven track record of delivering improved logistic efficiency by applying complex business models and management tools.
We have been very lucky to meet the team and forged a great business relationship and friendship with them and we were delighted to invite them to our farm for a look at how we operate and run our business. During the day we gave them our views on the industry and where it was heading in our eyes as well as a really deep look behind the scenes of our farm. Looking at modern farming, machinery management, crop needs, marketing, wildlife conservation, bio-tech crops, financial management and many other discussions came up in a very enjoyable and interesting day. At the end of the day they have a final summing up which everyone highlights something they have seen or learnt that they will look to use in their own business life, a great idea to round up a day. This for me and Patrick was really interesting to hear, what on earth could a family farm in Suffolk teach DHL? They run a completely different type of business, met and look into so many different businesses vastly bigger than ours really we should be learning more from them. As they went around the table one by one they all explained what they had learnt and would take from the day. A couple of points kept on coming up, what had impressed them the most was our attention to detail. Looking at every decision from the outside in and then researching into that area to find any alternatives or tweaks that we could apply. They said that is exactly what they strive to do, every decision however big or small needs to be made with all information gathered and evaluated. Also they said that something they would definitely be doing was what we had done and regardless of the type of advice we needed we would always go out and take the best advice we could. Even if we had to pay a bit more nine times out of ten we have benefited from this policy by the people or experience that the advisors could then pass or bring to our business. They said this was not always the case in a DHL and sometimes they compromised this due to one thing or another.
It was a very interesting day and we hope that our connections with them will go on for many years and look forward to seeing James, Jason, John, Richard and Angharad soon. BWB