Issue 190 March 2024
News From The Farm
Your regular update from Nicholas
‘The increase in birdsong heralds the beginning of the breeding season, to establish territories and attract mates’Nicholas Watts

February is normally our driest month but not this year; let’s hope it is our wettest month this year because if we get four inches of rain in any month, that is too much for us here.

We’re not behind with our drilling yet, as we never plan to do any drilling in February. But if soil conditions don’t improve and we can’t do any drilling by the middle of March, we will be getting behind. Currently it’s not looking likely that we’ll be drilling by the middle of March. If we’re behind with our drilling, our crops may well suffer a drop in yield but not always; it all depends on our summer weather – the two big variables being sunshine and rain. Those farmers who put all their crops through the combine harvester need to get maximum yield, as we are on world prices. Wheat and barley prices are so low at present, cereal farmers will make little or no money this year.

Potatoes are a bit different, we sometimes need a bit of a disaster, not for us but for the rest of the growers! If there is only a 10% shortfall in production, it will double the price of them, likewise for a 10% surplus, it will nearly halve the price and that is what has been happening for the previous four years. Basically, if the wet weather continues our potato crop will be planted late and will not be able to yield its maximum. That will be in a year when we will be planting less, because not enough seed potatoes were grown last summer. Not enough were grown because the seed growers were making no money and some of them decided not to grow in 2023.

Despite the wet weather our men have been very busy, we have decided to modernise one of our grain stores. We have been taking all the air ducts and grain walling out of this grain store. The foundations of the building are good, but it is not high enough or long enough. It is going to be made higher – high enough so that we can tip a trailer up in the store. In fact, none of our old buildings are high enough. The drier we are modernising was built in 1965.

The breach in the Welland that happened on January 4th has not been repaired yet. When the Welland burst its banks in 1947, it was a lot bigger breach than this year and it was sealed in less than three weeks, and they didn’t have half the equipment we have now. Fortunately, the breach was only in the top half of the bank so in normal times water will not be flowing into the washes, but after a heavy rain on February 8th water was again flowing into the washes, further flooding fields which all has to be pumped out.

What's HappeningOn the farm
Pode Hole Pumping Station

There is no doubt that the past winter has favoured ducks and swans. The big bonus for them in this area was when Cowbit and Crowland washes were flooded. They have not been totally flooded, so there is a lot of shallow water, just right for the swans, our dabbling ducks, and wading birds. While Crowland and Cowbit washes were flooding, more water was pouring into Welney and Whittlesey washes making them too deep for wading birds and dabbling ducks to feed in. If the dabbling ducks such as Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler cannot reach the ground by up-ending when swimming, they must go elsewhere.

So, ducks, waders and swans have come to Cowbit and Crowland from Whittlesey and maybe from Welney washes. The diving ducks such as Pochard and Tufted Ducks will be quite happy with the deeper conditions on Welney and Whittlesey washes. One species of dabbling duck that has appeared in good numbers is the Pintail, a species we don’t usually see in the area, but the species that has appeared in the largest numbers is Teal.

We have about three times the number of Whooper Swans in the area than we have ever had before, basically because they have somewhere safe to roost. That is also true for the ducks, but they are finding lots of food in the washes, some of which has floated to the surface.

Barn Owls have not had an easy time with all the wind and rain we’ve been having. I’ve not disturbed any of them, so I don’t know how many pairs I have on the farm. There is one box by our wetland that usually has a pair in it, that Jackdaws were busy squabbling over at the end of February. In my experience, if there was a pair of Owls at that box, they would not have allowed Jackdaws in.

Our wetland is looking promising, although there is more water on it than usual, we have sheep on the field and 800-900 Wigeon grazing on it. They are keeping the grass short for the Lapwings to nest on. Lapwings need to nest so that they can see predators approaching. We have five islands in our wetland which the sheep can’t reach, and they have longer grass on them. This is where the ducks and Redshanks will be able to hide both themselves and their nests. At the end of February, there were 12 Redshanks flying around, also 12 Shoveler, but I didn’t see any Gadwall. Four or five pairs of Coot were visible and some of them were chasing others around – whether it was a squabble over the territory, or over a lady, I don’t know.

Black Headed Gulls are also interested in the wetland again, I welcome them. I know they are very noisy, but when we had 150 pairs nesting in 2022, nearly every species reared young as well. I think they keep the Herons away who seem to be our biggest predator. If it moves and can be swallowed, Herons will have it.


Wetland Tour 27th April
Farm Tour 18th & 25th May
Farm Tour 15th June, 6th July
Sunflower Farm Tour 3rd, 10th & 11th Aug

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