Issue 193 May 2024
News From The Farm
Your regular update from Nicholas
‘The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild nature challenge has started. Join in & do something wild every day for a month.’Nicholas Watts

It was a warm and moist May, by far the warmest I have recorded – it was more than 1°C warmer than any other May. We had less sunshine than usual, but an above average rainfall of 65mm, our May average being 44mm.

What's HappeningOn the farm
Hoeing sunflowers

Being wetter and warmer than usual has meant everything we have sown has grown and our crops are a few days ahead of time. This has been so different to the last few Springs, where below average rainfall and above average sunshine meant some of the seeds sown didn’t grow. May 2020 was the only month, since I have been keeping weather records, when no rain fell at all.

We’ve had days when we were unable to work, but in general it has been a good Spring, a lot better than we thought it would be. At the end of March, there seemed to be no end to the wet weather and we thought that we would be unable to get everything sown or planted. With it being wetter than average though, slugs have been very active – nibbling away at some of our sunflower and millet seedlings.

Sugar beet looks as if it will be a good crop this year as the British Sugar Corporation nearly doubled the price they pay us – as a lot of growers were threatening not to grow it. It is a peculiar arrangement we have as British Sugar is the only firm who process sugar, so in theory we only have one buyer. When the price was so low some did get sold for animal feed and British Sugar became short of sugar, hence the large price increase.

We are not expecting good wheat crops this year as we were unable to sow all of it. Some of those fields that were sown have bare patches, due to standing water, and some have patches of blackgrass growing in the crop, which will have a big impact on yield.

Even if .01% of blackgrass can germinate in March when most of spring barley is sown, that is already a heavy infestation. The later you can sow your spring crops the better, as probably only .0001% of blackgrass will germinate in May. Waiting until May is then a problem, as it is too late to get a good crop of spring barley. Millet is not sown until May so it and sunflowers are very good crops in the blackgrass battle. Blackgrass is such a serious weed I can see some farmers having to give up farming, unable to manage it.
Some farms now have such a blackgrass infestation, even just 1% germinating in the Spring still causes a lot of trouble. We have been mainly been planting crops in the Autumn because they produce a higher yield and so, in general, are more profitable for the farmer.

We are expecting a profitable potato crop, but what you expect doesn’t always happen. Growing conditions in May has been very good, so everyone might have good yields. In previous years, the old crop had still been available when the new ones were ready, making a surplus of potatoes in July. This year all the old crop will be used up, so there shouldn’t be a surplus.


Whilst our farms are not all together, from one end to the other is about five miles as the crow flies. Wherever I am though I can hear, or see, a Cuckoo. 40 and 50 years ago they were seldom heard.

I have always been interested in wildlife and in the late 70s I was concerned about how my local drainage board were mowing our main drains, as they were mowing them both sides, twice a year. I asked if I could become a member of the board and I was accepted. At the second meeting I attended, I asked if it was necessary to mow our main drains twice a year. The board said said it was to keep the water flowing – there were 25 other people at that meeting, but I did persuade them to only cut once a year. The vice chairman told me a few years later, that the chairman at the time had said ‘I think we are going to have some trouble from this new chap’!

Three years later, I was talking to the engineer of the board and I asked him if we could only cut one side of our main drains each year. He was also interested in wildlife, so he said he would trial it. Leaving one side uncut each year has made a good habitat for Reed Warblers and they are one of the hosts of the Cuckoo. So we soon had Cuckoos going up and down our main drains. I don’t think I have caused the drainage board any trouble and probably saved them £250,000 in mowing costs, over the past 40 years

Over the past 20 years we have been digging ponds, creating reed beds and persuading the drainage board to mow some of our smaller drains one side each year. The Cuckoo comes and visits all these sites. It is so lovely to hear it every day wherever I am on the farm. The latest bird to turn up is a Bittern, which I spoke about last month.

Spring is such a wonderful time of year; birds arrive from the south, many of them crossing the Sahara desert to get here. Trees burst into life, the breeding season begins – but man has altered this world, so there are far less insects about than there used to be and far less birds.

We have been digging ponds, planting hedges and leaving areas for scrub to develop, you could say, to breed more insects. In the Vine House Farm garden, I feed birds live mealworms, which are of course insects, and it gives me so much pleasure to see the Robin or the Sparrow flying off with a beak full of mealworms. Numbers of Robins in the garden have increased and I’ve stopped our Sparrows from declining.

Turtle Doves are now rarer than Cuckoos. I am the chairman of the Turtle Dove Trust and we have a programme where 500 Turtle Doves are reared a year, in Suffolk. They are then taken to wildlife friendly farms and kept in a large aviary for a while, before being released into the wild. All this takes time and effort and so costs money. If any of you feel you can help us, we would be very grateful for any contributions. They can be sent to me labelled Turtle Dove Trust or direct to the website:

Back to Advice