The current Covid-19 pandemic has seen more customers than ever coming to Vine House Farm for expert advice and wild garden bird food.
Fourth-generation farmer Nicholas Watts has been working the land at Vine House Farm in Deeping St Nicholas, Lincolnshire since he was a boy.
His interest in ornithology became part of his work, leading to an MBE for his wildlife conservation work and wildlife-friendly farm management.
He started feeding birds in his farmyard almost 30 years ago; his wake-up call came after discovering corn buntings and skylark numbers had dropped, and he knew he had to do something.
Nicholas was astonished when hundreds of birds flocked to his farmyard – finches, buntings, sparrows and even a sparrowhawk!
In turn, people flocked to see the birds and started asking for seed to take home. A light-bulb moment later a new business was born.
‘Summer sees adult birds moult, shedding their old feathers and growing new ones, which takes a lot of energy, so birds still need feeding. Sources of natural food, like insects are declining, and in dry weather worms retreat deeper into the soil. Putting out plump sultanas, soaked in water means young birds can get vital moisture.
‘Watch who visits your garden, whether they’re ground feeders or prefer perching on trees or shrubs and offer a variety of food, so each bird gets what it needs from seeds to suet, or mealworms.’
Supporting farmland birds
Today Vine House Farm has 170 nest boxes for endangered tree sparrows. Over the last 20 years, thanks to wildlife-friendly measures put in place at the farm, barn owl and whitethroat numbers have quadrupled, and tree sparrow and lapwing numbers have increased 10-fold.
Reed warblers and green sandpipers dart along the banks of the farm’s water courses. Sand martins nest in gravel mounds and barn owls in the 20 boxes around the farm.
Each May, Nicholas conducts his own annual farmland bird survey, recording the results in handwritten logbooks. He says this spring marsh harriers, buzzards, lapwing and sedge warblers are doing well, but yellow wagtail numbers are down.