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.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Yellowhammer on the menu!

 Little Owls will usually nest in hollow trees, holes and burrows and when building boxes for them, ones with a corridor leading to a nesting chamber seem to work best. We were very surprised to find a Little Owl's nest in the corner of the workshop at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe with only a bale of wood shavings to keep it protected. It was only the keen nose of Brian's dog which brought it to our attention and now, two healthy chicks are almost ready to fledge. I have ringed the chicks so if we come across them we will  know that they are our workshop owls. They are quite mobile now and yesterday they had left the nest which gave me an opportunity to analyse what they have been eating. In the nest was evidence of beetles, ladybirds, the usual favorite foods along with worms and large insects. There was also jaw bones from 3 short tailed voles and a house mouse. The most surprising remains were of a young blackbird and an adult yellowhammer. The were alot of part grown black feathers from the blackbird and the Yellowhammer's wing and tail. The wear on the primary wing and tail feathers indicate that the bird was an adult. Although it is not possible to tell whether the bird was caught alive or scavenged already dead it certainly gave the 2 chicks a good feast. PJB
The contents of the Little Owl Nest

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Wild on Wednesday

I am back from Sule Skerry and this has fitted in very well with my next BBC Radio Suffolk Wild on Wednesday slot. Below is the link for yesterday's programme - go to 1 hr 36mins and a clue to part of what I was talking about is in the photo below. PJB

Puffin - Photo by John Evans

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Part 2: Putting our stamp on the farm

In part one,  I tried to explain how we got the buzz for wildlife and that we followed the lead from the rest of the family in respecting the responsibility we as landowners and farmers have, in looking after the wildlife on our patch of tranquil England.
In this second instalment, I will try and explain the process we took to implement our own approach and the hurdles and discussions we had along the way.
One of the biggest factors for our change was ceasing pig production, as explained in a previous post (http://lodgefarmwesthorpe.blogspot.com/2011/01/bye-bye-to-last-parts-of-pig-equipment.html) In effect, we were working 7 days a week for 4 days’ pay. It was a difficult and big decision but in the end it became a straight forward business decision.  Stopping the pigs made us focus solely on making our money from the arable production. We need to produce high yielding, high quality crops for the right markets. This is now the main stay of the business income; we have to be very aware of the cost of inputs and what return we will get from investing in the correct levels of pesticides and fertiliser. We have looked at all areas of the crop production and made it as efficient as possible. 
One step that we have taken to apply the science in crop production is nutrient soil mapping. This is using a soil scientist to look at the standard of our soil, assessing the levels of specific nutrients and pH so that we only apply fertiliser and lime to the areas that need it. We used to spread a dose of fertiliser across the whole farm to maintain the level; using the soil mapping, we saved £20,000 in fertiliser costs in the first year!
New chemistry and cultural controls are always investigated before using. We look in much more detail nowadays, at what chemicals are available to protect and cure disease and weed infestation. Cultural controls are always used first, like rotational ploughing against weed seed build up and a rolling seed bed to prevent slug movement and damage. These happen before any chemical is used.
Our Old Tractor Fleet, now we have 3!

One area I could not get my head round was our machinery collection. I say collection because is was, and I’m talking about our day to day machinery, not all the bygones in my Grandfather’s museum! We had 7 tractors; all had their own implements and that was that. They were normally small and old and because they did not have the power to pull large implements, fuel consumption and the cost of running  them was high.  We did have one large tractor that was the ‘ploughing tractor’. It did nothing else apart from ploughing, deep sub soiling and the odd bit of mole draining and for the rest of the year it sat unused in the workshop. The timing of all soil movements and applications, in my eyes, is paramount in maintaining high standards, especially on a heavy clay based soil like ours, as we only have a small window of opportunity to get on and cover the ground, otherwise we will start damaging the soil structure and that is a very costly process to rectify. I was keen to reduce our tractor fleet but replace them with much more fuel efficient vehicles and the right tractor for the jobs that we wanted it to do.  This was compounded one day when I was working in the autumn and was sent out to get a field ready for sowing; I puttered off with one of our small tractors and a three metre implement and set to.
Inefficient shaped fields for modern farming, 'Marginal Land'

This field is pictured and as you can see, it is long and thin with a footpath on all sides, a row of telegraph poles and it is meadow land which, however many inputs we throw at it, just never produced the yields of the rest of the farm. I got frustrated and bored as I was not going anywhere fast because I was always turning round and going over bits already done, as the shape just was not designed for efficient farming. As I sat in the seat, I had the words of my business lecturer ringing in my ears:
“Assess every element of your business: if it makes money push it harder; if it doesn’t, look at why not and understand why not; invest if you think you can get the investment back quickly; if not, then why waste your time and look for something that will make money.”   
So I did; I started recording the time and costs it took to grow the crops it produced. It just wasn’t breaking even;  we were farming it to make a loss! Crazy, in my eyes.  The machinery was just too big and we didn’t even have large machinery. If I got the new larger vehicles, it would be losing even more money. Our 24m sprayer would drive round once, then up and down; half of the time, sections of the sprayer were shut off and we could have sprayed a field  three times as large in the same time as it took to do this odd shaped field. So now, I needed to think what we could do with it to serve our farm better.
This all happened as the new Agri Environmental Schemes were being launched by Natural England. We had already identified these as opportunities for our business to secure a reasonable amount of income for 5 or 10 years from the government. We started to do some investigation into it and we liked how it was set up and how we could implement it in the time scale.  Patrick and I took on the responsibility to learn as much as we could about these new Agri Environmental schemes. We wanted do it our way, as we saw this as a way of putting our stamp on our farm to show our parents that we were serious about farming correctly, using the funding available from the government to benefit our business.  The schemes were open for business in 2005 and we set to. We applied for the lower tier scheme first. This is called Entry Level Stewardship (ELS). This scheme was designed for every farm in the country and Natural England had devised a number of options that could be used over all farms which would improve wildlife success around the country. It is a points-win-prizes-scheme. For each option used, the length of hedge, for example, or area of ground, is given a number of points as reward for using it correctly. You have to collect 30 points per hectare over your whole farm and would then claim the set amount of £30/ha. This is an easy to manage scheme, set for 5 years and you have to do exactly what it says in the hand book.
We compiled our application using mainly hedgerow and ditch management options with other areas of wild seed source options. While we sorted this application out, both Patrick and I got bitten by the bug. This is what we call the ‘What? & Why?’ bug. What are the aims? and Why do we need it? These questions came up more and more as the application process moved along. We wanted to know as much about these schemes and their aims as possible, so we knew exactly what the government wanted to achieve from them.
A selection of Scheme Handbooks and Information we had to read and know when doing the application.
The next step was Higher Level Stewardship (HLS): a significant step up. It is a much more competitive scheme where you got rewarded for what you did on the ground, using more specific options set out by Natural England. To get the extra level of funding you have to hit 5 or 6 of the requirements set by Natural England for your area of the country. It is a much more complex application process and at the start it was designed for Agricultural Consultants to carry out the applications on behalf of the farmer.   Patrick’s Dad, David, attended a meeting where an ex consultant said to him that no farmer will be able to do an HLS application by themselves. David returned and told us this and said, “I think we should do it ourselves.” (That ‘we’ was the ‘Royal we’, used often in our office) Patrick and I knew that the application would fall on our desks, but as it happened, we were already mulling over ideas.
The application did land on our desk soon after and we set to. Going through the process, we could see how much work was ahead. Every single, tiny, environmental feature on the farm had to be graded and recorded on a spread sheet, and every entry had to be mapped onto a Farm Environmental Plan. This was a full record of what we had and what state or condition it was in. We then had to start going through the options that we wanted to use in the HLS scheme to hit the targets set out by Natural England. The targets for our area in the ‘North Suffolk, South Norfolk Clay lands’ were
·         Protection of water resources,
·         Protection of any ancient Archaeology,
·         Improvement of habitats for the areas target species with the target species being mainly Grey Partridge and Great Crested Newts for us,
·         Plan to reverse the area’s decline in populations of locally important Biodiversity Action Plan Species (BAP Species) - mainly traditional farmland birds
·         To engage with local residents in provision of access on farm and educational oppitunities.      
Patrick and I wanted to know as much as we could and we were really starting to learn and get to grips with the schemes and what the underlying aims were that the government hoped to address. So we just followed the lead that our family had taken in the past and applied our level of detail and came up with the blueprint for the scheme we have on the ground today. The application process took 3 months of solid work with maps, spreadsheets, letters, history reports etc. When we were happy with what we had come up with, the application was sent in. We received the confirmation letter and were given the go-ahead to start implementing our new approach from February 2007.
I think this is an appropriate stopping point but Part 3 (of this two part story!) will be posted soon on what we have actually implemented and our ‘Big 3’ Golden Rules. BWB

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Part 1: How did we come to be on the farm?

Patrick and I have been taken aback by the number of people we meet who have read our blog. When we started out on this idea we never thought how much we would enjoy it nor how much other people would as well. So thank you to all our regular readers and occasional passers-by. We will try and keep you informed about life at Westhorpe and Great Ashfield for a while yet, as we have only scratched the surface on what we do!

In one of our previous posts we said that if anyone had a question we would be happy to try and answer it. A couple of weeks back Patrick forwarded me an email with the following question attached;

“I’ve been a nature and animal lover all my life and try and do my bit in my garden but I was wondering how you came about to be so wildlife friendly on your farm and sort of buck the trend of most farmers in my area?”

So, as the combine is still wrapped in a rain coat after the 15mm of rain that flooded the yard yesterday I thought I would try and explain how we got to be where we are today. I’ll do this in two parts; the first will be a bit of background of how we ended up as we are and the second is how we have approached our farm management.

Our family has always been interested in the countryside that surrounds us; it has been embedded into our upbringing by our greatest influences, our Grandparents, Parents and close family.

Our Late Grandparents Eric and Ella Barker (Pictured) who bought the farm in 1957 were true countryside custodians, they appreciated and respected the fine balance farming and wildlife required to live side by side. Grandfather was a hugely respected man in our area and I remember all the kind words that people sent to us when he passed away and how many people filled Walsham le Willows Church for his memorial service. He had farmed all his life and people still tell me that he was a forward thinking farmer and could solve any problem that he or others had in front of them. He loved and understood all farm machinery new and old; he was lucky enough to live through the massive change of the agricultural mechanization but he did not let it pass him by and become lost in the mists of time as he started collecting everything that he saw as an important part of our farming history. We still have 3 sheds full of his collection from humble spanners to horse drawn ploughs to Smythe Drills to Vintage tractors. This collection is a part of our farming heritage and we hope to develop it into an educational resource for others to see and learn from. He was also passionate about countryside management, a great shooting man that appreciated wild birds. He enjoyed inviting his friends to the farm for a day’s shooting as he offered a ‘wild’ Pheasant shoot, no birds were and have ever been reared and released for sport on this farm and we manage a wild stock by limiting the shooters to only one hen in the morning and one in the afternoon. Grandmother loved the farm, her garden and village; she was always keen for us to learn new things, even if we found them disgusting at a young age, like plucking and drawing dead game birds and skinning rabbits.   Mum tells the story that when Ella and Eric travelled up to meet her parents for the first time, miles away in a suburb of Carlisle, Ella arrived with two brace of pheasants as a gift, insisting that Mum and she had to sit in the garage and pluck them, so she would know Mum had the abilities to carry on the Barker Family traditions!  My Grandmother never missed an opportunity to pass on her enthusiasm for all things local and Suffolk.

The last and first tractor my Grandfather bought, started with horses ending with 180Hp.
Today tractors go up to 500+Hp, where will it stop?
 This obviously rubbed off on Roy (my father) and David (my uncle) as they carried on and built upon this love for the countryside in many different ways and continue to do so in the new positions they have taken on in the past few years. David has been Chairman of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Suffolk FWAG, and Local NFU and was a Countryside Commissioner. He has been rewarded with an MBE for his contribution to farming and conservation. Roy has a different approach but one that complements David’s. In the last 8 years, Roy has taken on more responsibility within his role as a District Councillor, being portfolio holder for waste and recycling, a role that he relishes and wants his farm and Mid Suffolk to be kept clean of litter and fly tipping. For his 50th birthday, instead of people bringing presents and bottles of Whisky, he asked for everyone to bring a native tree and planted a commemorative wood which, 16 years on is going from strength to strength. Our mothers Di (mine) and Claire (Patrick’s) also wanted us to know as much as we could, buying us bird books, binoculars, membership to the Junior RSPB and putting up with our whining when we got wet after being dragged round a nature reserve when we were young. Patrick still has his I-spy bird book with the birds ticked off as he saw them in his garden. I was taken to pretty much every National Park in Britain on holidays when I was young and I was taught what a unique place the British Isles is and how fragile some of the ecosystems are that we have, whether we were rock pooling off Cornwall, or walking the heather moors of Yorkshire, or the remote highlands of Scotland. I still remember one small holiday cottage with the stream in the garden where we stayed one year, which had a family of Dippers bobbing under the water catching fly larvae. We have been given every opportunity to get our hands dirty and learn about all things great and small.

Through school at Framlingham College, we both studied Biology at A-level; I also studied Geography and Design and Technology. Patrick took Business Studies and Physical Education. University was sort of next; I travelled and worked on the farm for two years before finally going to Lancaster University to read Environmental Science. I did not study Agriculture straight away as this all coincided with the Foot and Mouth outbreak and farming was not attractive and in a good shape. Mum and Dad told me to try my hand at something else, as the farm would always be there if or when I decided to return.  After two years of Lancaster I decided that Environmental Impact Assessments on a Chinese Pipe Line was not my calling in life, so I decide to come home. I was told that if I was to take on the farm, I would need a qualification the same or greater than anyone I employ. So I enrolled at Writtle College and gained my degree in Agriculture and Business management. When I enrolled, I kicked up a lot of fuss about my modules. Writtle wanted me to do the set modules and I didn’t because I had no interest in learning about livestock. I was interested in business and conservation. Business was vitally important as, unlike many at school, I did not do business studies, so I wanted to get to grips with accounts, budget, marketing etc.  I wasn’t seeing farming as a way of life, I was seeing it as an agri business. I ended up doing more business modules and conservation modules than anyone in my year at Writtle, on top of only the bare minimal arable modules required for my degree. I think this put me in a better position than just doing the regulation degree and if I were to recommend anything to anyone choosing a degree in Agriculture, I would push them to do as much Business as possible as you need to know how to make and manage money in this tight economic climate.

Patrick took a more roundabout route to get back on the farm, studying Sports Science at Brunel University. For a few years he did a couple of jobs coaching sport which he is passionate about but when Grandmother passed away and an extensive house renovation started on the farm, Patrick found the draw too much, as he had always been interested in elements other than agriculture on the farm and took on the responsibility of managing this project. Soon things started to snowball. Stepping up to the mark and actually believing we wanted to take on responsibility, both Patrick and I had new, sometimes stupidly radical, but usually simple changes in our approach to how we saw the family business functioning in the future.  Gradually, even our Dad’s saw the worth of our approach and gave us more and more of a rein - and the rest, as they say, is history!

Some say it is unusual to see cousins working so closely and successfully, but we have two very different approaches. I am a Farmer foremost and secondly a conservationist, Patrick is a Conservationist and secondly a farmer. We share an ultimate goal of improving the business output while at the same time improving the countryside we live in but we will always get there by taking very different routes. We are both very competitive with everything we do, even between each other. This is helps us to push ourselves and the business from year to year, always looking to better ourselves and each other to keep ahead of the game.

We saw an opportunity of coming into the business but we had to show our parents that we had a plan, so one night, down the local over a few beers, Patrick and I did a very simple analysis. We looked at our farm, our business and our families’ work, from the outside in. We identified areas that needed to be improved, areas than were not making money and areas that we saw as working well. We then chatted about how we could improve what was in front of us and drew up a plan. Taking this to our fathers we explained that this was how we wanted the business to develop. One big factor we had to consider was the new environmental scheme that the government was to bring in over the next couple of years. Our fathers have been hugely supportive and it is unusual in farming for the younger generation to be given the reins at a relatively young age. Historically though, in our family, early opportunities have arisen for control to be taken:  Grandmother was living with her grandparents on a farm in Langham when she and Eric married and he was able to help in a major way there; when Eric was taken ill and in hospital for a length of time while Roy and David were in their twenties, they took over the running of the farm and I don’t think Grandad had a chance to take over all the reins again after that! However, this does mean that both Dads are very aware of the huge advantage it gave them to take responsibility at a relatively young age and yet have the experience of Eric still there in the background. We both feel very fortunate that they have been so patient with some of our ideas and they still are our backup as their knowledge is vast and we are still learning our trade, but it gives us the confidence to back ourselves and our decisions because they will quietly point out if we are about to make a serious clanger and we have sometimes been left to learn from a number of mistakes!!  
The Barker Family (Plus a Couple of Light's on the far left)
So, hopefully, this has given you a bit of an insight into us and how we have come to be where we are today. We are still very much a traditional family farm and everyone is involved at every stage of the decision making process, as we all understand that different people see problems from different angles, so the best decision is one made with many views voiced - normally that is!!

I will soon post part 2 of how we have implemented our new approach across the farm.  BWB


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Spotted Flycatcher (and find out how you can help it!)

Muscicapa striata
An unimpressive bird, the Spotted Flycatcher has a greyish-brown body with a pale wing bar and underparts that have light brown streaks over a buff base colour.
Both sexes are alike and difficult to tell apart in the field but the juvenile is the only one to have spots!
13 - 15cm
14 - 20gms
Gardens, parks and woodlands. Prefers habitats with small openings and lots of deciduous trees.
May-June. Nests against the trunks of trees, among dense creepers, hanging baskets and other unusual places, and open nest boxes.
1 to 2 broods of 4-5 eggs. Number of broods does vary according tothe weather conditions.
Flying insects (bees, butterflies etc.), mealworms etc. from the ground in bad weather.
A simple 'zee' or a loud 'tuck-tuck'.
They are named for their habit of darting and chasing after insects in flight, which is how they catch the majority of their food. Only in cold weather when there are far fewer flying insects around they do feed from the ground or take insects from leaves.
They are the last of the summer migrants to arrive (late May) and have only a limited time to breed before the weather starts to turn and they head south again. They benefit significantly from a warm summer, and will otherwise only rear one brood.
BTO Statistics
The Spotted Flycatcher has undergone a decline of 78% in 25 years and is a BTO High Alert species. It is unclear whether the cause of this decline lies in the UK or in their wintering grounds in other countries, but breeding performance in the UK does seem to be improving.
Waveney Bird Club (WBC) is championing a community-based project that will attempt to reverse a worrying trend that shows a drastic decline in Spotted Flycatcher populations.  The project will be run under a partnership arrangement with the diocese of Ipswich and St Edmundsbury.  The idea is to supply open-fronted nest boxes and fix these in churchyards in the Waveney Valley and northeast Suffolk.  The project will draw attention to the plight of this much-loved bird, get people involved and provide nesting sites that would allow easy monitoring.  Subsequently, WBC will monitor the nest sites and the data collected will make a valuable contribution to the national database at British Trust for Ornithology.  The success of the project could then be evaluated and further contribute to scientific studies on breeding success as well as determining the requirements of Spotted Flycatchers locally.

For more info: http://waveneybirdclub.com/pages/spotted-flycatcher-project.asp

Monday, 18 July 2011

What's that coming over the hill, is it a monster?

Grass Seed Harvest
Over the past week, we have been busy with our grass seed harvest. Grass seed is an important crop in our rotation on the farm and we have been growing this specialist crop successfully for many years. Back in 1968 a very wet winter had just caused too many Sugar Beet head aches for my late Grandfather, Eric,  and the decision was made to remove it from the rotation as too much damage was being done to our prized asset on the farm, the soil!  Grandfather had to find a replacement and it was suggested to him to grow Ryegrass for specialist seed contracts.  It was a minor crop in those days with many unknowns but Grandfather and our fathers persevered and we are still doing it today. We grow two varieties, both ryegrasses, one for golf course fairways and football pitches, the other is more coarse and is used for grazing mixes for livestock.
I have recorded this harvest and I thought I would just explain the full process as quickly as possible!
A Step by Step guide to the Grass Seed Harvest and Hay-making Experience:
1.       The sun shines and the grass matures and dries out in the field.
2.       When we think it is looking fit, we take a hand rubbed seed sample (i.e. we rub a handful of ryegrass heads in our hands.  Few seeds falling out is an instant fitness failure) and then we do a moisture test on the resulting pile of seed with a heat lamp tester. (Pictured) This uses a system of weights to work out the amount of moisture that has been removed by the heat of the lamp within a certain length of time.  Eventually, the correct percentage of moisture v seed is reached in the samples and it really IS fit to combine.
3.       When it is ready, the combine goes into the field with its special header. The header is a unique bit of equipment called a Shelbourne Reynolds Stripper Header. It works like a giant hoover head, literally combing the grass stalks, stripping the seed heads and sucking the seed off the plant into the combine. The grass is very close to the ground and the header lifts it up off the floor with its high speed, fingered, rotor pulling only about 10% of the crop up into the combine, the rest (minus all the seed) is left standing in the field.
4.       The tank fills up and is emptied when full, which normally takes about 40 minutes. When emptying the tank we have to prevent the wind blowing the seed away between the combine auger and the trailer in which it is to be caught, so we have bought a high sided grain trailer and in high winds use a wind sock to prevent any loss over the edge.
5.       The seed is brought back to the farm straight away, as it is moist and warm.  If left, it heats up even more and sweats, which can cause germination problems and affect the final quality.
6.       The seed is levelled off over a special floor back at the farm. This floor has air ducts sunk into it and we have a high-powered fan that blows dry, ambient air through the seed. This rapidly cools the heap and slowly reduces the moisture level in the seed from a level of around 30% off the combine, to below 15% for safe storage. We agitate the heap with a stirrer and regularly move the seed to stop any hot spots or moisture layers causing any problems.
7.       Once the all the seed is down below 15% it is pushed up to free the floor for storage of other crops and then left until winter when we clean and dress the seed for its market.
8.       Back in the field and weather permitting, we would start our hay preparation. 1st step is to cut the grass stalks left by the combine. We use a 2.8m disc mower, the blades rotate at 1000rpm and it slices through the grass very close to the ground. The speed of the blades means that we can mow at high speeds sometimes 10-12km/hr. depending on the crop.
9.       Once mown, we spread and mix the hay, this is done by a 7.7m wide tedder that again uses rotation and finger tines to throw the grass off the ground up into the air and down again, leaving the green moist hay on the top to be dried by the sun and wind. This process is done daily, weather permitting, and the hay gradually dries out.  Usually this process takes 3-4 days.
10.   When the hay has dried out enough, it is ready to bale. It is a gut instinct decision with no real science behind it, just when it is good to go, it is good to go and it’s all hands to the pump!
11.   The rake will come and row the hay up that has been drying over the whole field; this is a 2.85m circle of tines that just pulls the hay into a row. The rows are then ready to bale and the race is on!
12.   The baler (Pictures) is a delicate mix of tines, rams, fingers, knives and knotters. It is pulled along, gathering up the row while rams push the hay into a chamber inside the machine, which packs it up. When it meets the desired length and density, the fingers thread the twine through and round the bale and the mechanical knotter ties the twine up and the bale pops out of the back. It then falls onto a mechanical trailing machine behind the baler that arranges the bales into 2 rows of 4 which are left on the ground for easy pick up by a loader - or a hungry horse owner with their empty horse box.
13.   Once the field is cleared, we all breathe a sigh of relief because, if we have any rain, it can put a stop to any of these processes and, if the rain is prolonged over a number of days, it can ruin the seed and the hay crop. So that is why we pray for sunshine and we have the saying ‘make hay while the sun shines!’
Hopefully you can pick out all the different machines in the video and next time you see us flying around with them in the field you know what is going on. Soon, if the weather turns nice we will be combining our Oil Seep Rape crops, as the wheats are still some way away from being ready. We just need sun not this wet stuff that keeps falling! BWB

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Boring Seagulls...?

I was once reprimanded by Derek Moore for accusing Seagulls of being ‘boring’ and ‘all being the same’ so I have made a real effort to learn the different species and increase my understanding of these birds. On the past two Sundays I have been helping Mike Marsh with a project on the Suffolk coast studying the movement and life-span of gulls. It involves a lot of catching and ringing in the long grass, mud and water but is great fun. We are catching the young gulls that are not old enough to fly so it requires a keen eye as they try to hide to every crevice or patch of vegetation. Mike has very kindly written a summary of his project - Landguard Bird Observatory have been ringing Lesser Black-backed & Herring Gull pulli since 1984. Most of our work has been done at Orfordness and, more recently, Havergate Island. Smaller numbers are also ringed at a few other sites in the county. Originally we only used standard BTO metal rings but since 1996 we also started using colour-rings. Each bird, in addition to the BTO metal ring, is fitted with a red colour-ring that is individually coded with a white three or four letter code. The use of the colour-rings has greatly increased our recovery rate, because the coded red rings can be read at a distance with binoculars or a telescope. When just BTO rings are used we usually only get data back when the bird is recaptured or found dead. Over the years we have collated several thousand colour-ring sightings of our birds including many outside the UK. The bulk of the foreign Lesser Black-backed Gull recoveries are from birds flying to France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco but others have been recorded as far south as the Gambia where three of our birds have been found. A few birds also venture eastwards into the Mediterranean and recoveries here include three in Algeria and one in Italy. The Herring Gulls are much more sedentary that the LBBGulls and the majority of their recoveries are in east and southeast England with a few making it into northern France and the Low Countries. By far the longest movement though is a bird that was ringed as a chick at Orfordness in 2000 and then seen in Norway in April 2003. The following April it was back at Orfordness 
 . .
The finished article

So, next time you are on holiday keep an eye out for gulls with a colour ring on its leg and if you can make a note of the code and colour and it will all help to add to the research and increase our understanding of ‘boring’ seagulls. PJB

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

June in Westhorpe

 The two Buzzard chicks were ringed on the 3rd. There was Common Blue, Tortoiseshell, Large and Small White and Meadow Brown butterflies on the Pollen & Nectar Mix on the 5th. Also on the 5th Derek from the RSPB recorded 3 Crossbill at Great Ashfield whilst looking for Turtle Doves. Barn Owls were spotted going in and out of a Barn Owl box at Great Ashfield on the 6th and a Red Kite and 2 Buzzards were seen on the 7th and 17th and on both those days Turtle Doves were singing at the Hall, The Lodge and near the Church in Westhorpe and at Kiln Farm, Great Ashfield.. I saw my first Red Legged Partridge Chicks on the 10th drying off on the back drive and on the 12th a family of recently fledged Coal Tits were on the feeders outside our office. A Spotted Flycatcher was on a telephone wire in the farmyard on the 16th and a hedgehog ran across the road in front of my truck at Great Ashfield. Swallows, Swifts have been hunting over the wheat field for the whole month.

I have been out checking the Barn Owl Boxes throughout June and have found Barn Owls breeding at both our farms and on farms at Great Ashfield, Rickinghall, Gislingham, Hitcham and on Thelnetham and Redgrave and Lopham Fens. Barn Owls have been seen regularly hunting in and around Westhorpe during June.
At Westhorpe there has also been Kestrels, Stock Doves and Jackdaws in Barn Owl boxes and we found a Little Owl’s nest in a log pile at Kiln Farm. Many of the summer migrants are still singing, Whitethoat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiff-chaff have al been heard throughout the month and we were able to ring fledgling Goldfinches, Robins, Dunnocks, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Whitethroats and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers indicating the breeding season is going very well. During the month the Pollen and Nectar mixes have changed colour a number of times depending on with flowers are in bloom. The mix is designed to be in flower thorough the whole summer and every time I have visited them it has been alive with Bumblebees, Butterflies, Moths, Spiders and many other insects.

The ponds have had Dragonflies and Damselflies on the regularly, most frequent are Common Blue Damselflies, Common Darters and Broad Bodied Chasers. Walking around the Oil Seed Rape field there are hundreds of spiders webs woven into the plants and as many birds especially Whitethroats, Dunnocks and Blackbirds darting in and out of the field looking for food.
Another busy month for wildlife on the farm and not nearly enough time spent outside watching it all! PJB

Friday, 8 July 2011

Much happening in June?

This is probably the hardest month for me to report all of the wildlife activity since we have been writing a blog as Brian and I seem to have spent very little time here. This is a summary of what we have been doing in June. The month started with the Suffolk Show (1st & 2nd) and the Barker family were out in force with bowler hats stewarding different areas of the show and more importantly, a lot of socialising. I was able to do my next BBC Radio Suffolk Wild on Wednesdays slot live from the Radio Suffolk stand at the Suffolk Show with Lesley Dolphin and although I was drowned out by the Apache helicopter at one point it was nice to be on a stage in front of a crowd rather than in a studio. The day after the show, local tree surgeon and fearless climber Matt Allen was on hand to check the Buzzard nest in woodland in Westhorpe and lowered 2 Buzzard chicks down which Chris McIntyre and I were able to ring. This is the 2nd time in 3 years Buzzards have bred on this area of the farm and we are very pleased to have them. (http://lodgefarmwesthorpe.blogspot.com/2011/06/baby-buzzards.html) The following week Brian and I were invited to judge the East of England Agricultural Society’s Supreme Conservation Champion Competition which involved visiting farms in Bedford, Croxton, The Trumpington Estate and West Wratting Estate and gave us a fascinating insight into the way other farmers approach on farm conservation, their wildlife and habitat management. We were very pleased to be able to name Dan Bull at the Croxton Park Estate as the winner as he is delivering true conservation benefits whilst running a profitable, commercial farm. We then went straight off to Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses (www.suffolkcheese.co.uk) to help Jason and Katherine Salisbury with their Open Farm Sunday. Their farm attracted over 1000 people during the day and it was nice for us to be able to meet many people to talk about modern farming and take home some of their Guernsey milk and delicious Suffolk cheese, especially the brie! The next week we took a day trip to Cereals, an agricultural show in Lincolnshire. This is a proper industry working show and gave us a great opportunity to catch up with many different people throughout the farming and conservation world and investigate advances in crop varieties, new machinery and spray chemicals and fertilizers.
On Saturday 18th I visited Nicholas Watts at Vine House Farm at Deeping St Nicholas in Lincolnshire. Nicholas was one of the judges when we one Countryside Farmers of the Year last Year having won the award himself in 2009. I was wandering around his farm shop when I bumped into Peter Allen, a farmer from Cumbria  Peter visited our farm on the same day as Nicholas in his capacity as a sponsor of the FW awards as a Natural England board member and it was good to catch up with him as well.
It was great to see another farm that is really delivering visible conservation benefits with very simple principles and techniques. It was amazing to see over 100 Tree Sparrows is one area of reed surrounded by thick hedges and baby tree sparrows in the nest boxes he has erected. It was also amazing to see a tower Nicholas had built with 4 nesting chambers and each chamber had a different species actually nesting in it. There were Barn Owls, Kestrels, Jackdaws and Stock Doves all co-habiting without any effect on the other. 
Brian asking testing questions!
On the 20th and 21st Brian and I were off again, this time judging the Farmers Weekly awards with Melinda Appleby, Isabel Davis from the Farmers weekly and Mike Phillips from NWF Agriculture. Having whittled the entrants down from 14 to 3 we visited Chris Dowse in Stainton Le Vale (Lincolnshire), Fay Smith in Great Easton (Leicestershire), and Charlie Bransden in Laleham, (Middlesex). Details of these finalists are on – (www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2011/06/14/127260/Farmers-Weekly-Awards-finalists-named.htm)
The results are not announced until the awards night on Thursday 6th October, so until then that is all I am saying.
On 25th our friends Jim Allen and Steph Brooks were married at Great Ashfield Church and had their wedding reception in the barn at Westhorpe. The day was fantastic, one of the best weddings I have been to and the whole farm looked amazing. The transformation of a grain barn to a wedding venue was a minor miracle and testament to the hard work by many people but especially Steph’s father Kevin who spent months preparing the flowers and friends Zoe, Zia, Lucy, Hannah, Ellie and Caroline who decorated the inside of the marquee. The month finished with visiting the Norfolk Show on the 29th and we started pre-season football training on the 30th. On top of all that we have had 7 groups visiting the farm on different evenings to see the farm and our conservation work.
We are hoping for a quieter July as harvest is approaching and the real work starts!


Yes we have joined our farmland birds who are 'tweeting' happily in our hedges. You may have noticed the new box on the left of our Blog with a direct link to our new Twitter Page. We hope to use our tweets as a small snippit of daily life on the farm, especially during harvest when time to write longer posts may be limited. Well we hope time is limited because the sun will hopefully be shining hot and work will be in top gear! BWB

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Blog readers, anyone for a farm tour?

It has been a busy spring with the farm hosting a number of farm walks for local clubs and societies. We had hoped to organise an open farm walk for all our local residents as we had done the year before but due to the early harvest looming this has not been possible.
However, our last farm walk for the summer is booked for the Monday 11th of July at Lodge Farm, Lark Valley Association are coming for a guided tour of the farm to look at our approach to modern farming and integration of wildlife conservation following a talk I did for them back in November. We have just touched base with them and asked if we could invite a few people who have enquired about a farm walk this year. So as a bit of a thank you from us for reading our blog we would like to invite you on the farm walk. There are only a limited number of spaces available for this tour in conjunction with the Lark Valley Association, but if you would like to know more and book a spot on the trailer then please can you email us at events@ejbarker.co.uk and we can give you the full details.
As I said, there will be a limit on space so please contact us soon if not you will have to wait till next year!! Hopefully we will see you on the trailer next week. BWB

Chinese Lanterns should be £61.50 each!!

We see them in the dark night sky,
 A small orange speck as they fly,
They disappears with ore and grace,
Until they extinguish out of sight,
With no care from who held the lighter,
So what happened to them once the fuel runs dry?
They slowly descend as the hot air dies,
Some fall fast,
Others slow,
They come to ground,
On tree tops n crops,
When they land their intensely hot,
And if they touch our cinder crops,
The farmer fears a burning fire,
So please consider our fabulous farmland,
Before you light a floating fire!

Chinese lanterns are in the press a lot at the moment for one think or another. Fires have been started, many fingers pointed and wagged at the few who don’t understand the dangers they bring. They are very unique and do create a stunning scene but I don’t understand how they can be sold so cheap and how they can be allowed to be released at the driest time of year.

So many take pride in the appearance of Suffolk and our countryside this has been shown by the good work of the ‘Don’t be a Tosser’ campaign run by BBC Radio Suffolk and other organisations, making everyone aware of the importance to put litter in the bins provided and act responsibly. If you are caught fly tipping you can be taken to court and fined heavily, if you are seen littering you receive a £60 on the spot fine! So why aren’t we pushing for the sale of these Chinese lanterns for £61.50 which includes the on the spot littering fine. They would soon become out of fashion if that was the case!

We have found the remains of lanterns in our fields, in our grass, trees and hedges. Normally if you find one, there will be 5 or 6 close by. These wire and plastic circles with their burnt fuel cell and balloon top can cause danger to crops, animals and humans. They are simple in design but also simple in the speed they can fail! The fuel cells can fall or balloon puncture which causes the hot fuel cell to fall onto anything bellow. The end resting place can be anywhere combustible or not, the problems occur during dry periods when they can fall on thatched houses, cinder dry crops, straw stacks, heather moors etc. they also cause potential problems in animal feed such as silage as they get cut up and mixed in with silage. Then the small wire or plastic bits are fed by accident to the livestock that swallow them and then cause the animal discomfort and to possibly die slowly.

So please if you are planning on releasing one, two or a hundred just bare a thought of where they might end up and what damage a very simple unnecessary spectacle could cause. BWB (My proof reader has been away on holiday so i'm sorry for the grammer and spelling!)   

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Combine is warming up ready for action!!

The Combine is warming up ready for action!!
The harvest is looming fast on the horizon; you may have noticed some activity on the farms around you as farmers are out with their sprayers and swathers. The Oil seed rape has set seed and the seeds are coming into early full maturity, to speed the ripening process and help with harvest timings the rape plant needs to be killed so the sun can dry it quicker.  
This can be done either by spraying it off with Roundup or by swathing a process of cutting the plant without thrashing the seed off it. Roundup is our preferred method as it will kill the plant and all the weeds (if any!!); we know when to spray by inspecting the crop. Once the seeds in the pods halfway up the plant are turning colour from green to brown to black we will be going in with the sprayer. The sprayer will have a mix of Glyphosate (Roundup) the broad spectrum herbicide to kill the plants, a water conditioner to help the plant to absorb the herbicide and a product called PodStick. PodStick is basically organic glue that coats the pods to keep them in tack as the plant dries out. It is a sort of safety product for us as farmers, Oil seed rape is very delicate once it is close to combining and the smallest of vibration from wind, rain or HALE will cause the seed to shed and fall on to the ground. As the plant dies and dries the pods become brittle as it shrinks and cracks, the PodStick just prevents this from happening and pod skin becomes more leathery than brittle. When you have put all your years’ effort into producing a high quality crop then you don’t want pound coins falling to the floor before the combine. Hale can be a huge problem and can strip crops off all their seed if a particularly harsh storm goes through the farm some people in know storm areas actually insure there high value crops against hale damage, an expensive process but in some case very necessary.
The Roundup will be applied and will need to be left for 14 days minimum before harvest. The moisture of the crops needs to be down below 10% at harvest to help with safe storage and easy combining. The straw will be chopped and incorporated back into the soil and soon after harvest our new cultivator will be sent in to mix the chopped straw and break up the soil to create a stale seed bed which will mean that any shed rape seed will germinate along with weeds like Black grass that then can be controlled before we drill the winter wheat in September.
The Grass seed crops are turning quickly with the 30+ degree heat; the weekend looks to be set fair so the grass may be ready for combining beginning of next week! This will be done with our specialist combine header, our Shelbourne Reynolds Stripper header is basically a giant hover attachment for our combine. Instead of cutting the plants close to the ground the stripper header has fingers that rotate quickly and literally pulls or strips the seed off the top of the plant and the air vacuum created by the rotation sucks the seed into the combine. When we combined our grass direct with our older previous two combines the knife struggled to cut the damp grass and then the combine struggled even more to thrash all the grass stalks going through it. With the new combine changing two to one we had to go down the Shelbourne Reynolds Stripper header route and we have not looked back. With the same area as what took us eight days difficult combining with two machines cutting direct into the crop only took us three and a half days with one machine and the new header. This saved us time, fuel and wearing parts as the combine insides are working at 15% capacity due to most of the stalks being left attached in the field. This also help with the hay crop that we take after the combine as due to the wet harvest in the last two years all the hay would have been lost in the field if we had not had the new header. The new header leaves it standing in the field and is more weather tolerant so we can pick our break in the weather to mow, tedder, rake and bale the stalks to make good hay with more control.
Harvest is a stressful but satisfying time of year, the hours are long normally 7am till sometimes 2am in the morning depending on the weather pressure. We do and try and consider all our neighbours and local residents by not combining close to houses late at night and picking days when the wind blows away from houses and full washing lines! But please also consider your local farmer, we are flying about as our years work comes to fruition. Please be patient and careful on the little country lanes as we will be in return. Tractors can be pulling heavy full trailers that need to be kept on the road and need to be kept moving as the combine in the field covers the ground so quickly, so please if you meet a tractor or see one coming in the distance please find a safe passing place and pull over so that we can squeeze past, don’t force us on to the verge as that is when accidents occur as verges give way or we hit a drainage gully which throws us off balance. If you are stuck behind a tractor remember if you can’t see our mirrors then we can’t see you! We will not hold you up for long and will always thank you for your cooperation with a smile and friendly wave.
We are stocking up on coffee and Red Bull, in desperate times in the early hours we may have to resort to making coffee with Red Bull, but fingers crossed all goes well this harvest and all with be safely gathered in. If you’re out walking or driving give us a wave, stop and have a chat if we don’t look too stressed just to make sure we are not asleep at the wheel!! BWB