28 June 2002

Award winner loves wildlife

WHEN most of us are still tucked up in bed in the mornings, Nicholas Watts of Vine House Farm, Deeping St Nicholas, Lincs is out with his binoculars observing the birds and wildlife on his farm.

Winner of the 2001 Farmcare/ FWAG Silver Lapwing award, he is passionate about looking after the countryside and says if we dont we will lose the birds and wildlife that we all say we love to see.

On the day he was hosting the launch of FWAG National Farm Walk week I met him just before 5am and was captivated by his quiet enthusiasm for conservation and his knowledge of birdsong. We started out past an old railway line, one of nine that used to serve the fens and immediately Nicholas spotted a black-cap. I realised I was going to have to be alert to keep up with his observations.

As we drove down the well-maintained farm track he explained how the fields were divided by margins of wildflowers and dykes that, unlike other farmers in the fens, he has not filled in. His many varieties of crops include sunflowers grown for his three year old enterprise supplying wild bird food. This is going well and he is pleased that local people are showing interest in the necessity of looking after wild birds.

Skylarks, corn buntings, reed warblers, sedge warblers, greenfinches, chaffinches, yellow wagtails and whitethroats to name but a few, thrive on his farm. Boxes have been put up in redundant buildings for barn owls, Victoria plum trees have been planted along the hedgerows to increase a friendly habitat for birds and burdocks are there especially for goldfinches.

On his nearby reservoir 74 terns nests have been recorded and carefully prepared maps of the local area show where the different species of birds have been spotted.

Changes in farming methods have affected the bird population over the years, for instance there are far fewer swallows now owing to the lack of flies associated with livestock. Also if wildflowers are cut prematurely it means that the insects vital to birds survival do not live their full cycle and the seed-heads do not produce the necessary nourishment.

As we stood beside the five mile long North Drove Drain, which is now only cut one side a year thanks to Nicholas being on the Drainage Board, I watched a swallow diving to its nest under the bridge. But the little bird that impressed me most was the meadow pippit which flies up in the air and then descends just like a parachute.

This years theme for the farm walks is "butterflies on the farm" and a free colourful poster is available if you send an A5 sae to Butterfly Conservation, Manor Yard, East Lulworth, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5QP.

Jean Howells