Thursday, 15 March 2018


What a month for weather – snow drifts were still in the Wolds a week ago and the rivers are flowing fast. Water is lying in the fields and our garden has the texture of a marsh. Starfish and razor shells carpet the beaches and poor old Cleethorpes has sand in too many places. Woodcock galore have been seen at Gibraltar Point whilst Nicole sent me a picture of one in her garden at North Thoresby.  But the early spring flowers are coming out in profusion, let’s hope they survive the snow and cold weather forecasted for this weekend.
Unfortunately, this Woodcock has been virtually housebound since early February, so he has not been able to clear the snow or to get to exposed places to see the variety of species swept in with the extreme weather. Nevertheless, he has handed in his crutches and looks forward to being on the move very soon.

Our next local meeting will be at 7.30 pm at the Nichol Hill Methodist Church Louth on Friday 23 March when LWT Warden James Forrester will tell us about the ‘The Management of Snipe Dales Nature Reserve.’ Entrance, including refreshments is £2.50. Children are welcome and are not charged.

The books presented to the group by Chris Robinson from his late mother Joyce's bookshelf have raised £190 for the LWT to date. Thank you for your interest and generosity and to Biff Vernon who is managing the sales. The remaining books will be on sale at the March meeting and at the April AGM.

The Annual General Meeting of Louth Area Group members will be held at Nichol Hill Church, Louth on Friday 27 April 2018 at 7.30 pm. Please note that, in accordance with the Constitution, all Committee members and Officers stand down at each AGM.  Chairman Ray Woodcock and Secretary Biff Vernon and Treasurer Rod Baddon are willing to be re-elected, as are current committee members: Colin Byatt, Avril Huke, Louise Scott, Judith John, Andy Goy and co-opted member Chris Henderson. If these members are re-elected, we will have a good representation to enable our group’s programme and other events to continue successfully.
However, if you wish to join the committee and make a commitment to carry out specific duties and attend as many of the meetings as possible please contact Ray Woodcock on to discuss the role and to obtain a nomination form.
Although the entrance is free I hope that you will buy some raffle tickets. The relatively short AGM will be followed by a quiz (bring a pencil) and the raffle together with coffee/tea and cake.

Best wishes
Ray Woodcock Chairman Louth Area Group LWT

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Talk by Nick Watts of Vine Farm - February 2018

February's talk at the Louth Area Group of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, was given by Nicholas Watts, MBE.  Nick has farmed at Vine House Farm, near Spalding, since 1964, where he has been one of those all to rare creatures, a farmer who is also a serious conservationist with a passion for wildlife. 

Many years ago Nick realised that key to maintaining a flourishing bird population on his land was their food supply and when visitors saw the abundance of birds around his farmyard where he had scattered grain and asked if they could buy some birdseed from him, Nick put two and two together and created a new direction for the farm business. A significant part of Vine Farm now revolves around the growing ans selling of grains and seeds for bird food.

Nick showed us how many of the changes in farming practice over the past half century have conspired to produce an environment much less favourable to many bird species. This area of the fenland is almost entirely devoted to arable crops, but decades ago mixed farming was the rule with most farms having some cattle, pigs and poultry, housed in old buildings that provided nest sites and opportunities for birds to reach grain stores and wet areas where insects could breed. Away from the farmyard, changing cropping patterns have meant less food and nesting opportunities in the fields. The use of agrochemicals, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and growth regulators have conspired to produce an environment hostile to the whole food web on which all birds depend, but those that eat insects are particularly hard hit. Even many of the birds we see eating seeds on our feeders, need insects to feed to their young in the spring. There are some winners, the herbivorous wood pigeon and the magpie that lives off roadkill.

Nick demonstrated how, often quite simple, things he has done on his farm have had a big impact, yet have fitted into the farm's need to operate commercially. Subsidies through the Stewardship scheme have allowed wildflower strips to be planted around field margins. Skylark plots, uncultivated squares within cereal fields to allow safe nesting, may help the birds but provide the farm with an income slightly greater than the value of the crop foregone! Nick has had ancient brick barns repaired, for the benefit of nesting barn owls, with help from money from the wind-farm. He has built brick tower nest-boxes for owls and other birds and his numerous nest-boxes near a pond have had a phenomenal positive impact on the tree-sparrow population. Nick has influenced the drainage board to manage dyke banks in a way that is better for wildlife and is cheaper. A win-win!

Of course buying bird seed helps the business, but Nick's case that improving the food supply is key to maintaining flourishing bird populations is unanswerable.  Asked whether he was optimistic about the future, Nick pointed out that, whatever their views, only a very small proportion of the country's population actively engage in conservation work, and farmers are no different. The vast majority of farms are not operated in a way that prioritises wildlife, so he is pessimistic about future prospects.

Vine House Farm has a wonderfully informative website. If you are not shopping, skip past the opportunities to buy the bird food and read about the history of the farm, what has been done to enhance the habitats and learn about how large scale cereal farming on a commercial fenland farm can operate alongside a thriving bird population.