Issue 192 May 2024
News From The Farm
Your regular update from Nicholas
‘I feed live mealworms from mid-April until mid-July, to supplement the natural diet of nestlings & fledglings & to help with their survival’Nicholas Watts

Would you believe it, April was one of the warmest we have had. It just shows how short our memories are, as most of us think it has been a cold month. The first half of April was well above normal temperatures. The mean minimum temperature was 5.2°C.

Can you remember April 2018, when we had more frosts that month, than we did in January that year, with the average minimum of 1.2°C. Comparing the cold Sunday on April 28th, when the max temp was 8°C, with April 26th 1981, 1.5 ins of rain that day, with gales and the max temp was 3.5°C, just imagine how cold that would have been! So we’ve had quite a good April really, with rainfall slightly above average at 41mm, when the average was 40mm.

What's HappeningOn the farm
Potato planting

You may not have liked the recent cold April weather, but it has been a good month as far as we as farmers are concerned. It remained a relatively dry month until Sunday 28th when we had 20mm of rain. The wind turned round to the north, which brought some nice drying winds and we’ve been able to get a lot of land work done. The last of the spring barley wasn’t sown until April 24th, which was the day I heard the first Cuckoo – they say that barley sown after the Cuckoo has been heard won’t yield very much, of course time will tell.

We’ve been able to get 80% of the potatoes planted, which is about on schedule and a big relief to us as Alan, who drives the potato planter, is retiring on May 17th. Just a month ago, we thought we would be bound to have some potatoes to plant on his last day; Alan has been working for us for 45 years.

If the weather behaves, the millet and the sunflowers will get drilled on schedule. We also have Countryside Stewardship (wildlife enhancing measures) to sow, so the recent rain will help these later drilled crops.

We have been running our own lorry for the past six months, as we believe that there is an advantage by having our man delivering our own produce. It is a 44 tonne gross lorry. We are also expecting to haul other people’s produce for one or two months of the year, to keep the lorry busy. There is one other farmer in the village who has three lorries, but 60 years ago seven farmers had lorries. All of them four wheelers, and most of them didn’t do more than 20,000 miles a year and in those days, there was no such thing as a HGV licence.

Most of those seven farmers had a lorry delivering sugar beet to Spalding sugar beet factory, which closed in 1989. At that time, I was taking our sugar beet in by tractor and trailer. I bought an articulated lorry, took the engine and gearbox out of the lorry, squeezed the chassis members together to make a drawbar and was taking 18 tonnes of sugar beet to the factory – more than most lorries at that time.


I saw my first Swallow on the 6th April but no more for another week. There are several about now and are moving into their breeding haunts. I have started my spring bird surveys and every survey I do, I record less birds than last year and we’ve less birds in the Vine House Farm garden as well. I’ve been recording bird numbers for the past 40 years and have kept all the survey sheets, so I can see the real difference.

I have also been keeping records in my wildlife diaries for 65 years and I would say that we only have about 10% of our resident birds around that we used to have 60 years ago, excluding Wood Pigeons. It really is catastrophic and I see no way out of it, even though Sir David Attenborough says it is not too late to stop global warming and bring wildlife back. I can’t see any way to get wildlife back.

Despite the lack of birds I still find feeding the birds in my garden very interesting. I am feeding live mealworms and I get more pleasure from feeding those than any other bird food. I am feeding three families of Robins from the same pot. Robins are very territorial and there is one Robin that tries to be boss, but he can’t manage to keep the other two out, quite amusing to watch it all going on.

I am not saying that Robins have declined here, in fact I can’t remember feeding three families from the same pot before. It is the House Sparrows, Blackbirds and the Starlings that have declined. I can identify that drop from what I have coming to feed and from the survey I do through the village. Those three species have certainly been having a plentiful supply of food in April, May and June so it is not a food issue at nesting time. The Sparrows have the live mealworms and the Blackbirds and Starlings have soaked sultanas and fat products. We use a caged feeder which prevents the Starlings from entering to get at the live mealworms. Remember it is the live mealworms that are so important, because they are moist and every bird has to take its young moist food, because it cannot take them water. Dried mealworms just don’t take up water.

Only a year ago, I thought the reeds in my nature reserve were spreading too much but this year we have a booming Bittern in those reeds! It doesn’t mean that we have a breeding Bittern, but we may well have one.

Our wetland has a nice selection of birds on it, Lapwings, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Shelduck and Tufted Ducks, all breeding or thinking of breeding. Numbers of most species are down a bit except for Redshanks, of which I think we have six pairs this year. We also have visiting Little, Cattle and Great White Egrets, as well as Herons. I believe Herons are the mischief makers; if it moves and can be swallowed it will be a meal and I think the Heron takes most of the young that are born on the wetland.

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