William Powell Country

Winter at Vine House Farm – Drilling, barn owls and menacing vermin!

Rural Matters

Article written by 21 December 2014

Vine House Farm Newsletter No. 80 –  From the 8th of October 2014

You could say a lot of water has passed under the bridge since my last Newsletter because we have done a lot of work on the farm, and we have had more than 2 3/4 inches or 70mm of rain in October. However, very little did pass under any bridges because we had just experienced the driest September since I started recording the weather in 1970, besides in this area the land has soaked it all up. By the 16th of October when we had received 2 ½ inches in October we were praying for the rain to stop because we still had sunflowers and potatoes to harvest. The wet and windy weather was also making it difficult for Barn Owls to catch any voles.

Thankfully the rain stopped here in the East letting us finish harvesting the sunflowers and potatoes, which enabled us to get on with the winter wheat drilling which is now going well. It’s amazing how the weather can be so different not very far away. I was amazed to hear that in north Lincolnshire it has been far wetter than here and they have done very little winter wheat drilling and in Lancashire it has been far too dry, the farmers are hoping for some rain!

We like many other farmers are drilling our winter wheat later this autumn. For the past 20 years winter wheat drilling has been taking place in September which has favoured blackgrass. A grass weed that has been able to thrive in the early autumn drilled oil seed rape and winter wheat crops also became resistant to some of our sprays. It only needed one or two plants to survive our sprays and it was away as each seed head can have as many as 400 seeds within it. This over the past few years has become a major problem to us. It looks quite an insignificant plant on its own but when there are 100 plants per square meter in a wheat crop, the yield of wheat is only half of what you were expecting. By drilling later we will have been able to kill a flush of early blackgrass before we drilled reducing the amount plants the chemicals we have to kill. Farmers will also be sowing more crops in the spring to help reduce the blackgrass burden.

We like most other potato farmers have good potato crops, we are not expecting the price to rise. However come next May and June it could be a matter of if we can find a market for them. Next June is a long way ahead, it will depend on if we have a cold or warm spring. A late spring would mean that our old crop would all be needed and an early crop would mean the last of our old crop would clash with the new crop.

We have had a good millet and sunflower harvest all of which is dry and cleaned except the last batch of sunflowers which are still being dried. The pigeons harvested some of the sunflowers before we did and the only way to deter them was to shoot some. Therefore, you can now buy some nice fat wood pigeon breasts from our farm shop.

Wildlife on the farm

We have never had so many rodents on the farm as we have this autumn, rats, mice and voles. Rats and mice can do a lot of damage to us knawing away at woodwork trying to get into our buildings and spoiling the crop we are storing, of course we cannot sell a bag of bird food with a hole in it. The bird food we sell is very attractive to mice and rats, we lay poison down around our buildings and as far as we know we haven’t had any rats in our bird food buildings.

We have had and do have mice in our buildings all the time but we store all our bird food on racking and we have lots of live mouse traps around the buildings. You might like to store your bird food on a mouse free stand, it just needs 9 inches of shiny metal which the mice cannot climb up but make sure you don’t leave a ladder for them to climb up.

Voles do not come into our buildings so don’t worry us, but they are the food of Owls and Kestrels. Quite simply, if there are lots of voles the Owls will do well. You may think that you haven’t seen many Owls flying around and of course you won’t do because they haven’t needed to fly in the day, they have caught all the food they needed in the hours of darkness.

On my farms in the Fens I have had 13 pairs of Barn Owls nesting and they have produced to fledging 87 chicks, 6 ½ chicks per pair. In the 30 years I have been monitoring Barn Owls that is far better than I have ever seen. It is just so unfortunate that none of you are able to witness this amazing spectacle. In the parish of Deeping St Nicholas there have been 119 Barn Owls reared that I know about. Only a year ago experts were saying that the Barn Owl population was now so low they thought Barn Owls would never come back to their former populations.

  BarnOwls - V house Farm

Only 20 months ago there were lots of Barn Owls flying in the day time and it was lovely to see them, but a lot of them died because they just could not find enough food. From April 2013 the weather conditions have been good for voles and they have kept breeding. The Tawny, Short Eared and the Long Eared Owls, Kestrels, Foxes, Stoats, Weasels and Badgers will all be feeding on Voles and all those species have done well this summer.

Gallery-BarnOwl- V House Farm

I have seen a Brambling and a Redwing but there aren’t many around, this is because we have been blessed with South or South West winds. These winds have stopped our winter visitors flying across the North Sea, they will be coming South but they will still be on the continent. Maybe this is a good thing for them because if there had been lots of North East winds they would have arrived here in their thousands. If the North East winds had kept blowing thousands may have kept going into the Atlantic and perished.


I will be talking to the following people over the winter months:-

  • Lincoln Camera Club on the 25th November, 17 Minster Yard, Lincoln
  • Lichfield RSPB group on the 6th January
  • Chorley Wood RSPB group on the 15th January
  • Woodbridge RSPB group on the 5th of February
  • Farm Walk here on Saturday 24th January to see all the birds we are feeding
Nicholas Watts
Vine House Farm, Deeping St Nicholas, Lincolnshire.
Images: Nicholas Watts


Nicholas Watts – Nicholas is the owner of Vine House Farm and has been running the farm since 1966. Nicholas is passionate about wildlife and in1982 he decided to do a breeding bird survey on the farm and has done so every year sin.. Read more.

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