National Nest Box Week - Barn Owl

Barn Owl peeping out of Nestbox during ringing by licensed professional. Photo credit: N Rowsell

As you may be already aware, it’s National Nestbox Week this week (14-21 Feb). First established in 1997 by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and birdcare supplier Jacobi Jayne, National Nestbox Week aims to encourage everyone to provide extra homes for birds. Traditionally nestboxes have been put up in early Spring, ready for the nesting season, although many birds are already looking around for the perfect nesting site. Boxes put up in the Autumn can provide cosy roosting sites, so the advice is to put up boxes whenever they are ready!

There are plenty of places to buy nestboxes but it can be very satisfying to make one yourself. Organisations such as the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts have online instructions for building a simple nestbox. There are some links at the bottom of this post. It’s a great activity to do with groups of children. They can hone their carpentry skills, while learning about the different bird species and the importance of providing a safe place for birds to roost and nest. 

The populations of many of our wild bird species are in decline and a major factor in that decline is the lack of suitable habitat for the birds to feed and nest. More land is being built on, and gardens and green spaces are getting tidier, pushing the birds out.

Nestboxes come in many shapes and sizes. Different bird species have different housing requirements. Birds like Tree Sparrows like to nest in colonies so favour many single nestboxes close together, or a terrace type nestbox – just like terrace housing! Tree Creeper boxes are wedge shaped, with a hole in the side of the box near where it attaches to the tree. Swift boxes are an oblong box with a narrow slit entrance. On the subject of Swifts, the RSPB has been working with house builders to get Swift bricks incorporated into new buildings and renovations. They are aiming to get another 1000 Swift nestboxes put up before the birds arrive back in the UK in April. You can find out more about the project on the Swifts page of the RSPB website.

The siting of nestboxes depends on the birds you are trying to attract. For most nestboxes the trunks of trees are ideal but if you don’t have trees in your garden, the side of your house or a shed will do. Swift boxes need to be sited under the eaves of a building. Swallows prefer nooks and crannies in outbuildings. Open fronted boxes will need to be protected by a covering of foliage. All boxes should be sited out of reach of cats, with the entrance hole facing in a northerly direction, if possible, away from the prevailing wind and rain. 

Instructions to make your own nestbox:

RSPB: Build a Bird Box –

Wildlife Trusts: How to build a nesting box for birds –

Find out more about National Nestbox Week at

Our Fair to Nature friends at GardenBird and the RSPB both sell a wide range of nestboxes if you don’t have time or the tools to make one!


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Today (Monday 14th January 2019) the UK Government launched the new Clean Air Strategy 2019. The strategy sets an ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified to be the most damaging air pollutant. The major components of PM are sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water.

So how does this affect farmers?

UK agriculture is responsible for 88% of ammonia emissions. In 2016, one quarter of those emissions came from fertiliser use. The rest comes from livestock farming via the use of high-protein food, much of which can be traced back to fertiliser use. Ammonia reacts with nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide to form secondary particulate matter.

How does the UK Government plan to tackle ammonia emissions from agriculture?

The Clean Air Strategy sets out three main measures by which the Government will encourage the reduction of ammonia emissions from agricultural practises:

  • Support farmers to invest in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions.
  • Introduce regulations to require farmers to use low emission farming techniques.
  • Introduce regulations to minimise pollution from fertiliser use.

In September 2018 the Government launched a new £3 million programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists to work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide support and advice.

The Government also proposes that funding from future Agricultural Policy should go towards targeted action to protect habitats from pollution.

Clean Air

Photo credit: Brin Hughes/CG

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Agriculture Bill

Turtle Dove habitat on a Fair to Nature farm. Photo credit: S Abbott/RSPB

This autumn saw the publication of the first new UK Agriculture Bill for 70 years. It was published alongside a policy statement and together they reaffirm the government’s commitment to public money for public goods. This really is a step change for farming in the UK. By recognising the importance of environmental protection and enhancement the approach is in tune with all Fair to Nature is seeking to achieve!

A key plank of the new policy in England will be the  Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. Although very much under development, this will supersede the current agri-environment schemes. The ambition is for it to be more results based, simpler to access and allow efficient farming and improving the environment to go hand in hand. A Tests and Trials Advisory Group has been convened to co-design the scheme.

In addition to support for public goods and ELM, the policy also refers to the need to maintain regulatory protections and  improve transparency in the supply chain – both really important elements of a more sustainable farming system.

Although these are all positive developments, as always, the devil is in the detail and if this new agriculture policy is going to deliver for people and wildlife there are still crucial details which need to be pinned down.

The Bill provides a framework through which the ambitions of the policy can be delivered but none of this is guaranteed. There are some fairly sizeable holes which will need filling to ensure the new approach does not sink without trace. These include: secure long-term funding; a clear and ambitious purpose to improve the environment and a duty to have an environmental land management scheme to ensure its not lost on the whim of a future government.

You can read more about the Bill here.

Thank you to Lucy Bjorck from the RSPB’s Land Use Policy Unit for this article.

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New Year Resolutions - bee - What do Bees Need?It’s Bees Needs Week! This annual event is organised by the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as part of England’s National Pollinator Strategy. Various events are going on around the country to celebrate and promote what bees and other pollinators do for us. The event was launched in Carnaby Street, which has been renamed Carnabee Street for the week. Visitors can visit a pop-up ‘hive’ at 3 Carnaby Street to find out more about our furry little friends.

Pollinators, such as bees, are vital to the growth of our food crops. According to the charity Buglife, it is estimated that 84% of EU crops (valued at £12.6 billion) and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination The insects forage for food in the flowers and, in the process, transfer pollen from one flower to another (pollination), enabling fertilisation to take place. Without fertilisation these plants would not be able to set seed or produce fruit. The ecosystem services provided by these little creatures is often overlooked.

The National Pollinator Strategy aims to build on our understanding of the contribution of pollinators to our food supply and to prevent declines in pollinator populations. There are 5 simple actions that many of us can take to help prevent pollinator declines:

  • Cut grass less often – daisies and dandelions are great sources of pollens and nectar.
  • Let your garden grow wild – or at least have a wild area within your garden. How about a mini wildflower meadow?
  • Don’t disturb insect nests and hibernation spots
  • Think carefully about whether to use pesticides
  • Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees

Our Fair to Nature farmers know the importance of pollinators to the success of their crops and encourage them on to their farms by planting areas of pollen and nectar rich wildflowers, like the one below.

Wildflower margin on a Fair to Nature farm - What do Bees Need?

Wildflower margin on a Fair to Nature farm.Photo credit: Brin Hughes


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New Year resolutions - butterflyHappy New Year! Let’s make 2018 a good year for nature!

Here are some simple New Year resolutions that will lessen our impact on the natural environment around us and even help us feel good:

When shopping…

Buy loose fruit and vegetables and use paper bags where possible instead of pre-packaged in plastic.

Give up using plastic drinking straws. Switch to paper, metal or bamboo straws or just go without! Take the Plastic Challenge.

Keep reusable shopping bags with you in your car or bag to save money and reduce the number of plastic bags in circulation.

Plan meals and buy smaller amounts of perishable items to reduce food waste and save money. Check out Love Food Hate Waste for some tips on how to use up leftovers. 

Choose brands that go the extra mile for nature, such as those that have Organic certification or labels such as  Fair to Nature, LEAF, or Pasture for Life.

For more information about making your shop nature-friendly read Chris Kent’s blog ‘6 ways to make your shopping basket nature friendly’.

In your garden…

Leave an area of your garden to grow wild if you have the space. This will encourage wildlife to forage and perhaps nest in your garden.

Insect mansionPut up a bird box and build a bug hotel. Buglife’s insect hotel is simple to make and the RSPB website has detailed instructions for building a bird box.

Provide food for birds and site the feeder so it’s visible from your window so you can enjoy watching the variety of visitors. You could take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch between 27th and 29th January 2018! Make sure you regularly clean the feeders to stop the spread of diseases, and look out for bird food that is grown in a nature-friendly way, such as Fair to Nature bird food from the RSPB, Honeyfield’s, National Trust, and GardenBird. Check out our ‘Feeding garden birds’ page.

When out and about…

Wildlife gardeningEngage with nature. The more we interact with and learn about nature, the more we are prepared to protect it for futures generations to enjoy. Research has shown that interacting with nature also makes us happier!

Visit your local nature reserve. The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust websites can point you in the direction of your nearest UK reserves.

Join a Green Gym or volunteer at your local park. A lot of parks have voluntary groups of Friends who help to maintain the space. A great way to get fresh air, exercise and companionship for free!

Or simply enjoy a walk in your local park or green space!

Here’s to a great 2018!

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What's in my patch? Red Campion #2

Red Campion Silene dioica. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

Red Campion (Silene dioica) is also known as Red Catchfly in the USA. It is a member of the Pink family (Caryophyllaceae). This pretty perennial plant has deep pink flowers with notched petals on a hairy stem up to 1m tall. In the wild it favours lowland soils and shady areas and is a common sight along roadside verges. The best time to see the plant in flower is late spring, when the bluebells begin to fade, and into the summer months.

What's in my patch? Red Campion #1The 20mm wide flowers open during the day and are very attractive to pollinating invertebrates with a long proboscis (or tongue)!

When sowing Red Campion in a wildflower seed mix, farmers need to keep the seed rate low as in favourable conditions it can take over a wildflower area as happened spectacularly at the former Fair to Nature office! It looked great though, and it was buzzing with insect life, as well as being a talking point for visitors!

Did you know that Silene, in Red Campion’s scientific name, comes from the Greek God Silenus? Silenus was often depicted as a drunkard and got his name from the Greek word for saliva – ‘sialon’ – as he was often covered in a sticky foam. Female Red Campion flowers produce a sticky foam to capture pollen from visiting insects.

What's in my patch? Red Campion

A riot of Red Campion at the former Fair to Nature HQ in 2016. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

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37185438 - cowslips on a hill in the landscape cowslip

Cowslips. Photo credit: pixphoto/

The egg yolk yellow flowers of the Cowslip (Primula veris) are a welcome sign of spring. A herbaceous perennial of the Primrose family Primulaceae, the Cowslip flowers throughout April and May, providing an early nectar source for long tongued bees, butterflies, moths and bee flies. The flowering stems arise out of a rosette of wrinkled leaves and the flowers are a deep yellow with an orange base. The flowers cluster together at the top of the stems, often drooping to one side. The plant prefers chalky soils that are moist and well draining but can also grow well in dry, non-calcareous soils. 

Common in traditional meadows, it is sometimes present in the wildflower areas managed by our Fair to Nature farmers. One of our members’ has a former arable field that has been reverted back to grassland and Cowslips are now abundant in this field. Another of our members’ has a long established wildflower area adjacent to an arable field and the Cowslips are the first to flower in this habitat each year. The name ‘Cowslip’ is derived from the Old English word for cow pat, cu-sloppe, reflecting the presence of the plant in traditional grazed meadows.


The nodding flowers of the Cowslip. Photo credit: S Abbott/CG

Although still a common flower in many parts of the UK, the Cowslip is declining and meadows full of Cowslips are a rarity. Much of the decline occurred between the 1940s and 1980s as agriculture intensified. Only 2% of the wildflower meadows that existed in the UK in the 1930s remain today!

You can help our farmers to create and manage more wildflower areas in our countryside by choosing Fair to Nature brands. The brands contribute towards the cost of managing the wildlife habitats.

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Pollen and nectar habitat on a Fair to Nature farm What's in my patchIt’s the time of year when some of our Fair to Nature farmers are sowing their wildflower mixes. The best sowing time is mid August to mid September but this clashes with the busy harvest of cereal crops so there may not be enough hours in the day to fit it all in! The wildflower mixes contain plants that provide a much needed nectar source for pollinating insects such as bumblebees, honeybees and hoverflies. The Fair to Nature protocol, that all our farmers follow, requires two types of pollen and nectar habitats – wildflower meadow species, such as oxeye daisy, and legume species, such as clover. The wildflower meadow species are generally perennial and the flowers are long lasting. The flowers come into their own later in the year and, with careful management, the meadow can last a lifetime. The legume species are perfect for providing an early nectar source as they start flowering in early spring, but these mixes tend to run out of steam after 4 or 5 years and will need to be resown.

Fair to Nature farmers are also sowing their wild bird food crops. These special mixes of seed bearing species like fodder radish and white millet will provide food for wild birds over the winter months and into the early spring when food can be scarce.

We’ll be taking a closer look at some of the different plant species that our farmers grow in these special wildlife areas in our series ‘What’s in my patch?’ over the coming weeks.

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We think all our Fair to Nature farmers are winners for the amazing work they do for wildlife on their farms so it’s great when they are recognised for their achievements. Robert Law FWAGThe latest winner is one of our pilot farmers. Robert Law farms on the Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Essex borders and has been a Fair to Nature member since the scheme began in 1985, growing oats for Jordans Cereals and then supplying other Fair to Nature accredited brands as the scheme grew. Robert has recently won the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) East Farm Conservation Award 2016.

Robert is a first generation farmer and since taking over the Hertfordshire farm he has planted over 30km of hedgerows on the land and created areas of new woodland. The farm has flourishing wildflower and wild bird food habitats.

Katie Hilton, Robert’s FWAG East adviser, said, “Robert is a true advocate of wildlife farming and this is evident in the wide range of Stewardship options to be found across his farm, from sensitively grazed chalk grassland slopes to large swathes of pollinator and farmland bird crops”.

Robert, along with two other regional finalists, now goes on the shortlist for FWAGs Silver Lapwing Award, which recognises farmers who go the extra mile to protect and enhance the countryside in which they farm. Good luck Robert!

Click here to read about Robert and some of our other Fair to Nature farmers.




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We’ve just rediscovered some great pictures from a motion camera that we were loaned in 2013! We were loaned the camera by Perdix Wildlife Supplies, to monitor a supplementary feeding trial that we were carrying out as part of Operation Turtle Dove. We had devised a feeding cage that would allow turtle doves in but exclude any predators. We decided to practice positioning the camera by strapping it to a tree outside our office window. The camera was set up to capture footage from around our bird feeders. We found that the feeders attracted more than birds…

Badger captured by motion camera at Gransden 12.06.12 2359

A badger rushes by

rabbit - camera

A rabbit in the evening sunset

Greylag goslings and their parents - camera

A greylag gosling tries out it’s wings

Fox at Gransden 2 camera

A fox checks out the bird feeder

pheasant 4

A pheasant

Brown hare and crow - camera

Brown hare, pheasant and crow

We have seen evidence of muntjac deer around the feeders but didn’t capture any footage of them unfortunately. But it was exciting to view the overnight activity each day! As for the turtle dove feeding trial, 2013 was a bad year to do the trial. The Fair to Nature farm that were we were trialing the feeder had nesting turtle doves most years but there was no sign of them in 2013! 

Thanks again to Perdix Wildlife Supplies for the loan of the cameras. Perdix Wildlife Supplies logo - camera

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