It was a pleasure and an honour to be invited to visit Nicholas Watts’ Vine House Farm in Deeping Fen, north of Peterborough, a couple of weeks ago as part of a British Sugar group. 

What an extraordinary example of a farm at its best and of how far farming has come in recent years.  The farm is a business, of course, and produces a mixture of arable crops including sugar beet, potatoes, millet and sunflowers.  But, working with nature, Nicholas and his team have transformed the farm over the past 20 years to include nesting territories for over 53 species of birds. 

He rises at 4am each day to spend time on the farm observing and noting bird and wildlife activity before starting his day’s work.  His dedication is unstinting and the time and analysis he puts into this side of his work sets a high bar for us all.  It can be illustrated by this note I found in the farm’s newsletter: “Corn Buntings are farmland bird that have disappeared from many parts of the UK.  The Fens are one of their few remaining strong holds.  Last year I noticed a small increase in Corn Buntings but I didn’t say anything to anyone in case it was a blip in my recording but this year I have recorded another increase which is very pleasing.  The only thing I can put it down to is that there have been no vining peas grown in the village for the past 4 years….”

The vision for Vine House Farm came to Nicholas in 1992 when recordings of bird activity on the farm showed a dramatic decline over the previous ten years.  The setaside scheme (    was introduced and Nicholas took this opportunity to reverse the trend and started growing crops for the birds to harvest for themselves on his setaside land.  This grew into another revenue stream all of its own and the farm started its own bird seed product line.

I know that this is just one example of inspiring biodiversity work taking place on farms across the country and, it is clear to me that we need many more people like Nicholas Watts working across other industries, using the foresight and innovation he demonstrates to halt the decline and starts to repair the damage we have done to our environment.

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