Farming for Nature

NOFA Nicholas Watts

A bird lover who turned his hobby into his livelihood has been crowned the winner of a prestigious wildlife farming award.

Nicholas Watts, 70, of Vine House Farm in Lincolnshire, was crowned the winner of the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award after impressing judges including Butterfly Conservation’s Chief Executive Dr Martin Warren.

Vine House Farm is a traditional arable farm, in the Lincolnshire fenlands, that has evolved into a hugely successful bird seed business and organic vegetable box supplier.

Common BlueBut thanks to Mr Watts innovative farming methods the site now attracts many species of threatened wildlife including Barn Owls, Yellow Wagtails as well as a plethora of butterflies with  Brown Argus, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Small Copper, Comma, Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow all recorded.

When Mr Watts set off with a map and a pen one spring morning in 1982, to note down all the birds living on the farm, he didn’t realise the impact the results would have on his farming practices.

Over the next 10 years his annual bird surveys revealed a worrying decline in the numbers of Skylarks and Corn Buntings.

He started taking measures to provide food and shelter on the farm and saw a marked increase in birds. The numbers were so impressive that the farmer invited the public to an open day to view the spectacle.

The ensuing demand for the seed he was growing and feeding the birds resulted in the business that now accounts for 400 acres of the farm’s crops.

Barn Owl TowerMr Watts 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.”

Dr Martin Warren said: “Nicholas is a shining example of how farming and nature can go hand in hand. It is truly heart-warming to know there are people who care so much for conserving wildlife on their land.”

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.

The competition is run by the RSPB, supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife, and sponsored by The Telegraph.