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Bifga Eyes Articles

News and views from BIFGA members about what is happening on and around British fruit farms

Please note: comments posted are those of each individual contributor, and not necessarily those of the BIFGA Committee. Accordingly, no responsibility can be accepted by BIFGA for the information supplied.


While June is a quiet month on the bird front, May is usually full of birdsong; this year there has been noticeably less singing from migrant breeding birds. One suggestion is that because their arrival was delayed by bad weather, they have got on with raising a family as soon as they arrived on territory. The generally warm and damp conditions appear to have benefitted birds and many young are now beginning to roam the countryside. Alastair.

This has been an exciting autumn for migrant birds in East Kent. Large numbers of regular visitors, Siskin and Goldcrest, were recorded in September and October, both species moving from their breeding areas in Scandinavia to find somewhere warmer for the winter.

It always amazes me how a bird as tiny as a Goldcrest,weighing only about 6 grams (2p coin) can fly across the North Sea. They drop in to Sandwich Bay, to feed for a few hours or days, before continuing when the weather conditions are favourable.

A rare bird from the far North East, a Red-flanked Bluetail, was also seen; only the second in the observatory's history, they usually winter south of the Himalaya. An attractive species which is increasing in northern Finland, so we might see them more often.

A seasonal photo from Svalbard, soon to be starting their Christmas journeys!  Alastair


What a strange year we had in the bee-keeping world. 

The pollination season seemed to be all over the shop this year, with cold easterly winds delaying things by a good ten days in some areas around the East Kent coast, but the further inland we came, pollination was almost the same time as last year.

Eventually it came and went, and talking to various fruit growers around the regions, everybody seems extremely pleased with their crops, cherries, pears and apples, though I understand that some of the plums could have done better.

The bees on the other hand had come into the plum category, many on the West and North of the country have had a disastrous season, many have had not much honey to extract at all, their harvest was down in some places as much as 75% and when this translates into wages, this will be a worrying time for them. They would have had to buy in extra winter feed, to get their colonies through this winter.

To the East, we fared a bit better, those Bee Farmers I have spoken to seemed to have just below average yields this year and if anything, things were too dry, but at least we got something.

Expect to see honey prices increase this year.

With a warm autumn this year the bees would have been working the ivy for a last chance to fill the hive with much needed winter stores of pollen and honey, and although many people do not like seeing it, Hymalan Balsam has provided a much needed pollen boost as well.

My bees were again fed by the end of September, treated for Varroa, feeders taken off, lids strapped down and chicken mesh placed around each hive to keep the green woodpeckers off.

I will not go into my hives now until February time, but will check on them occasionally to make sure that things are alright, no fallen trees, or woodpeckers getting through the wire, and that they are standing upright and water-tight.

It was good to see many growers at the Fruit Show, and again, I would like to say thank you to all those that use our Pollination Service. Alan Hart

I recently joined a group looking at bumblebees. In a quite small area, we found no less than eight species - most of them new to me! It is extraordinary what can be found, almost literally, under one's feet. It was an area where I frequently walk, unaware of this diversity. Interestingly the greatest number of bees was found, not in a nature reserve, but on an area of commercial farmland. Alastair

Blue tits are well known for timing the hatching of their nestlings with the emergence of oak leaf feeding caterpillars. This year has seen many birds with small broods or not attempting to breed at all. With the weather this spring being quite benign, and plenty of adult birds present, it is surmised that there is a problem with food supply. Whether this is a result of the relatively mild conditions last winter, or a consequence of climate change remains to be discovered. One wonders whether Codling and Tortrix will be reduced, to the gratification of top fruit growers! Alastair Henderson

I recently witnessed an extraordinary spectacle of the skill of avian flight.

We are used to hearing of the speed, dexterity or endurance of birds, but this was rather different. I was in a wood in Kent when a Buzzard (Common Buzzard to pedantic birdwatchers!) drifted over. I watched it through a gap in the foliage, about 80 feet above me, as it remained motionless for 20 seconds. There was no wing movement, and I could see not the slightest feather ruffle. It was quite an eerie experience. Alastair Henderson

Swallows are now here in some numbers, so summer can't be far away!

The House Martin, a similar aerial insect eating species, arrives a little later; it is in decline and is the subject of a survey organised by the British Trust for Ornithology this year. One possible reason for the reduction in numbers may be the unfavourable under-the-eaves nesting environment of modern houses. I have heard that in Belgium house owners are paid for successful breeding House Martins! Perhaps a question for prospective parliamentary candidates?

I learned the above at a talk I went to recently on Swifts, where there is a campaign to encourage the addition of Swift nestboxes in new building construction or when old buildings are renovated. Swifts arrive here in May, their screaming groups around the rooftops in late summer a lovely feature of the British summer; recent research has shown they make the journey from Madrid to the UK in 2 to 3 days. Alastair Henderson

At this time of year, with the Conference pear buds swelling, older fruit growers may be remembering the devastation that Bullfinches used to wreak. They would systematically and at high speed, strip a tree of fruit buds. Many growers would (legally!) trap and shoot the birds to try to reduce the damage. Now, to see a Bullfinch is a remarkable event. Their decline has not been caused by our persecution, but by some other as yet uncertain, change to the environment. Alastair

Your BIFGA Eyes reporter is widening his horizons in New Zealand!

Along with many exciting endemic bird species there are British birds brought over for sentimental reasons in the 19th century which are thriving, in contrast to those in the UK. House sparrows and Song Thrushes are abundant! Photo left is of a New Zealand robin. Alastair Henderson

Robins are much in evidence at this time of year. Those of you who have been pruning may have had one in close attendance; this is not because they enjoy your company - they are looking out for worms brought to the surface by the movement of your feet. Another ornithological event is the obesity crisis in the goose population........and a Happy New Year!    Alastair Henderson

At this time of year we watch out for migrant thrushes from Scandinavia, migrating SW to avoid snow. Redwings and Fieldfares usually arrive in the UK at the beginning of October, but this year, mild conditions throughout Europe has meant that they have been able to stay longer near their breeding areas. Last week saw the first significant arrivals; always a welcome sight as they feed on fallen fruit in the orchards. If we get any severe weather here, they move on to Ireland or Brittany. Alastair Henderson

The wonderful settled weather in September allowed birds to migrate south with little interruption; lovely for them and fruit growers, but somewhat boring for birdwatchers.

In October we watch for deep Atlantic depressions in anticipation of migrants from the other side. Swept up by hurricane Gonzalo three American Cuckoos, making their way from North to South America for the winter were deposited in Ireland and West Scotland - an extraordinary feat of survival - Alastair Henderson

Mid September is the peak of autumn bird migration and birdwatchers hope for easterly winds and a clear night. Many, especially the smaller (passerine), birds migrate at night; with an easterly wind those travelling from North East Europe can be drifted across the North Sea to Kent.

Then, if they should encounter a weather front of cloud and rain, they have to descend. This makes for exciting birdwatching as many birds, often including rarities, can suddenly arrive. A wet morning in September is perhaps not everybody's wish?!

Another centenary this year (BIFGA Quiz participants take note!) is that of the death on the 1st September (in Cincinnati zoo) of the last Passenger Pigeon on earth. They had declined from millions to extinction in a very short period of time. Alastair Henderson

 This year has been a good year for Bee Farmers and honey producers. Winter losses were minimal and a very warm spring helped hives build up strength for top fruit pollination. Varroa mite continues to be a problem, and Bee farmers still have ongoing costs to keep it under control and still with no Government help.

September is again a busy time for Bee farmers, the last Varroa treatment will be administered and bees are fed sugar syrup to top up their honey stores to see them through the winter. Hives then need to be protected from the green woodpecker and secured against high winds.

Many thanks to those BIFGA members who support and use the pollination services. Should you be interested in using the Bee Farmers Association for pollination and require further information or advice please contact - Alan Hart

 I have been invited to contribute to the BIFGA website. As a retired member, I will submit the occasional note on the natural world. They will be mostly about birds, my lifelong interest.

Some birds are noticed by fruit growers for the wrong reasons - from Bullfinches in the 1960's to, perhaps, Rose-ringed parakeets in the near future.

I think that fruit growers, less cocooned in their machines than arable farmers, are in a better position to notice the wildlife around them. I would love to respond to any comments from members.

Now, in August, birds which come to the UK for the summer, are beginning to make their way south for the winter. While I was picking blackberries, I saw a Whitethroat - an insect-eating warbler - doing the same! Several insectivorous species eat fruit in the autumn to gain extra energy for their perilous journey ahead. - Alistair Henderson

Looking forward to seeing members and their guests at the 26th Annual BIFGA Technical Day on Wednesday 29.1.2014 sponsored this year by Dow Agro Science Ltd; New Leaf Irrigation Ltd and ACT Publishing (publishers of the Fruit Grower).

At the time of writing, 101 delegates are booked in, including Roger Worraker who will be selling "The Apple Pruning Manual" that he co-wrote with Malcolm Withnall.  John Breach, BIFGA Chairman

Reminder that the National Fruit Show will take place on 16th / 17th October 2013 at the Kent County Showground, Detling, Nr Maidstone, Kent

Following an excellent visit to the BIFGA 21 Variety Trial Orchard at Brogdale Orchards, hosted by Tim Biddlecombe and his team from FAST, there will be a chance to see the BIFGA 21 Variety Trial Orchard at Hadlow College, Kent, on Friday September 20th at 3pm - John Breach, BIFGA Chairman