Watt a result for wildlife-friendly farmer!

Wednesday 25th September 2013

Though in decline elsewhere, yellow wagtails are thriving at Vine House Farm.Yellow wagtails are a declining species but are thriving at Vine House Farm

A farmer who has nurtured wildlife on his land for over thirty years has been crowned the most nature-friendly farmer in the UK. He was backed by The Wildlife Trusts as a finalist in the Nature of Farming Award.

Nicholas Watts, MBE, of Vine House Farm in Lincolnshire, has been crowned the winner of the RSPB/Telegraph Nature of Farming Award by impressing judges and inspiring voters with his dedication to improving the numbers of declining species, such as yellow wagtail, on his land, which is now buzzing with other birds and insects. Watts firmly believes that farming and wildlife go hand in hand and proves this with his extremely successful and profitable farm business.

Now in its sixth year, the Nature of Farming Award celebrates farmers who do wonderful things for nature, finding the one who’s done the most on their land to help our threatened countryside wildlife. Vine House Farm sells wild bird food, bird feeders and accessories which are supplied direct - every sale supports the vital work of The Wildlife Trusts.

Winner, Nicholas Watts MBE, said: “In 1992, after recording the breeding birds on my farm for 10 years, I realised there had been a big drop in numbers. This worried me so I set about trying to reverse that decline and I have succeeded with several species.

“Since the mid 1990s the national numbers of some farmland birds, such as the yellow wagtail, have continued to decline. I’m delighted to have shown that it’s possible to buck this trend, but I feel that farmers need to be given as much support as possible to put wildlife back on the land.

“We all want good quality food to eat, but most also want colour and birdsong in our farmed countryside too. Now, more than ever, we need the Government to support farmers like me and the many others who are doing good things for wildlife but who can’t continue without the financial support to do it.”

Paul Wilkinson, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Landscapes says:
“I am thrilled that Nicholas has won this award. He has succeeded in running a profitable farm while giving a huge helping hand to nature - The Wildlife Trusts recognize that farmers and landowners should be the backbone of conservation and restoration efforts. The support that he’s given to The Wildlife Trusts has been invaluable.”

Vine House Farm spans 2000 acres and is a traditional arable farm passed down from one generation to the next, and situated in the Lincolnshire Fenlands. Nicholas grows a wide range of crops including wheat, potatoes, oilseed rape, sugar beet, millet and canary seed. He also farms 300 acres of his land organically, primarily with wildlife in mind. He runs guided tours of Vine House Farm and has a small nature reserve [at Baston Fen] where visitors can see a variety of birds and wildlife.  In the last 20 years, barn owl numbers have quadrupled, whitethroats, tree sparrows and lapwings have increased ten-fold. 

Wildlife-friendly measures he has undertaken include planting 4km of hedges; creating 12 ponds amounting to around 15 acres of water; having wide grass margins for barn owls to hunt over; sowing 15 acres of wildflower meadows for insects and 35 acres of cultivated margins for weeds; and building four brick towers for barn owls. All the land is farmed in a way that is sympathetic to the wildlife that shares its environment.

The UK’s most wildlife-friendly is also active away from his farm, having persuaded the drainage board to mow their ditches less often and giving regular talks across the country on farming and wildlife.

The Wildlife Trusts launched a partnership with conservation award-winning Vine House Farm in August 2007.  There's more information about wildlife-friendly farming on our webpage Farming for a Living Landscape. The competition is run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph.

Image kindly supplied by Richard Bowler