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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, 11 February 2012

All Things That Start With ‘B’

Painted Lady Butterfly & White-tailed Bumblebee
enjoy one of our free nectar sources given by a Thistle!

As I sit in my office all I can think of that begins with ‘B’ is ‘Brrrr’!  Yes, the snow has been on the ground now for a week and it is starting to get a bit boring! On nights of minus six and wind chill of even more, the best place has got to be in front of a log fire that’s kicking out loads of heat, either down the pub with a beer, or at home dreaming of warmer times to come.  I did have one evening flicking through the TV channels and came across a programme on BBC2 called ‘Bees, Butterflies and Blooms’ it was the first of a 3 part series, this really got me thinking about our farm and everyone’s approach to wild flowers and all things beginning with ‘B’!
Bees, Bugs, Butterflies, Blooms and…...Breakfast ingredients? This last ‘B’ is an interesting one as without all the ‘B’s’ listed in front of it we would not have half the food to choose from on our supermarket shelves. The importance of flying pollinators is so misunderstood that we have to start thinking about how we can really give them a helping hand and look after them. It has been stated that every third mouthful of food we eat every day has been created by pollination, by one of our B’s or a B further afield in another country!
Honey Bee enjoying early nectar from a Goat Willow
Widely discussed is the plight of the Honey Bee as the Varroa Mite attacks hives but there are hundreds and hundreds of other pollinators that are in decline and need a helping hand. Different from the Honey bee is the humble Bumblebee, which is another that has been having a really hard time of it. We see them scavenging far and wide over lawns, shrubs and flowering plants but do we know the full life cycle so we can help? To know the ins and outs of a life cycle of all the insects would be pretty impossible but we need to understand and take an interest to help preserve them.
Yes, we as farmers have to stand up and say we need to do more. We have been pushed to become more efficient, make cheaper food and deliver huge amounts of grain to satisfy the demands of government, the general public and the growing world population. All this has been done, we are producing more and more food and we strive to keep the cost down so that food prices don’t become too high but all this cannot happen without something giving. Unfortunately, over the past 50 years, wildlife has suffered but we are working hard to reverse this decline in our country’s biodiversity and a happy medium can be found while maintaining high quality, high yielding crops, as well as benefitting our precious wildlife.  This is something that we on our farm are really passionate about and we know many other farmers are as well, but some have not yet grasped the concept that ‘wall to wall, production, production, production of wheat’ is not the ‘Buzz’ term in Agriculture any more. The ‘Buzz’ in the countryside is returning in the forms of insects. Farmers are starting to do their bit but anyone and everyone can get involved. We all have our part to play, on any scale, small or large.   
One of our areas of Pollen & Nectar Mix
This is the time of year that Patrick and I start to think about our work in the spring with regards to our environmental stewardship. The spring is the time when we plant our giant growing bird tables in the form of Wild Seed Mixes and our larders for insects in the form of Pollen and Nectar producing plants in blocks, which we establish around the farm. All these areas are grown as a crop to make sure that they deliver huge amounts of food for farmland birds, insects and everything that makes our farm its home.
We plant a huge range of plants that all either produce viable seed in the winter or bloom brightly in the summer for long periods, producing huge amounts of sweet sugary nectar for our insects. Things like Phacelia, Mustard, Sunflowers, Clover, Vetches are all found in our mixes and when they are in full bloom the surface is literally moving with insect life: Bumblebees, Solitary Bees, Honey bees, Butterflies, Hover flies, Aphids and then Predatory bugs following along behind.
So what can everyone do on their own patch? As you sit in front of the fire thinking of warm spring days, planning your allotment or vegetable patch or your new flowering border in the garden, spare a thought for the insects that move all the pollen around the countryside. Give them an area in your garden that is purely for them, bursting with flowers delivering loads of nectar, so that they keep doing what they do best!
A Red-tailed Bumblebee
Planning a Bumble Bee buffet does take some thought. They emerge with the warming early rays of spring from their underground layers looking for that first sugar fix around March and keep buzzing all the way through till the cold weather and lack of food forces them back to the safety of their hole. They are a fascinating and unappreciated work force that we as farmers, gardeners and lovers of sweet jam-filled cakes need to know more about. In the office we have a book that I would recommend if you want to know anything about the Humble Bumble, A ‘Field guide to the Bumblebee’ written by Mike Edwards and Martin Jenner is packed full of info and is well worth the £5 to £9 price tag. Natural England also has some great online resources that give some great tips to increase wildlife in your garden, they can be found at http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/advice/wildlifegardening/booklets.aspx .  Do also involve any children in your family in getting to know what they can do to help.  Let them design Bug Hotels – the more weird and wonderful, the better!  They can be made without cost from recycled materials, are fun to make for all ages and mean our insect workforce will have somewhere to hide and rest during next winter.  http://apps.rhs.org.uk/schoolgardening/uploads/documents/making_a_bug_hotel_770.pdf
A change in mind-set needs to be adopted; farmers need to respect and protect wildlife by changing practice; our obsession with keeping every part of our lawns and village greens mown needs to be broken to allow our natural wild flowers to burst back into existence; and the culture of expecting all year round, cheap, out of season food needs to be considered, especially because so much fresh produce is wasted by consumers because it is turns to mush in the bottom of our fridges. Have a thought for the Honey or Bumblebee that pollinated the tomato flower as you throw out the squidgy one left in the fridge, or the leathery apple left in the fruit bowl!              BWB       

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant Brian! How wonderful to hear a farmer say such things. If only the NFU could be echoing your thoughts,

    Derek

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