The Wildflower Meadow And The Chicken

A chicken and a wildflower meadow don’t seem a natural combination, but in fact they’re a match made in heaven. Let me explain.

Last year we were approached through the British Beekeepers’ Association by Noble Foods, the biggest producer of eggs in the UK. An enterprising manager realized that chicken ranges might offer some interesting opportunities to help bees. If you go to a free range chicken unit you’ll understand. In the middle of a field is a vast barn, with something like 30,000 chickens inside. They’re free to wander about, and indeed have to have a certain space per chicken to wander about. The thing is, they’re not really interested. The barns are snug and the chickens have food, water, and egg laying sites. They might run about outside around their barn, but very quickly a visitor will be walking across an unpopulated grass field. A large chicken free grass field.

Noble Food chickensGraham – the enterprising manager – got to thinking that doing something with those unproductive grass areas might be a good idea. Noble Foods had already planted trees on some areas of their chicken ranges, but he felt there must be other opportunities. All the vast chicken-less grass areas were being used for was to make the odd bale of hay; it’s verboten to use them for a commercial crop. Not only that, but uncropped grass needs regular cutting so they were actually costing hard pressed egg producers to maintain. He hit on the idea of wildflower meadows.

1. Lower maintenance cost.
2. Great for chicken welfare – lots of invertebrate snacks.
3. Large scale habitat creation – genuinely significant impact on the landscape and a fantastic PR opportunity for Noble Foods.
4. Engagement with local communities – Graham had thought of local beekeepers, but everyone will love the aesthetic appeal.

There are various practical hurdles, of course, which is where we come in. With the help of external consultants we’ve overcome the issues and will be starting to ship Noble a range of native wildflower meadow seed mixes in the next couple of weeks. These seed mixes are a cut above your normal agricultural cultivars – they are proper wildflowers. Graham has signed up producers for over 100 acres in year one, and we’re targeting 800 acres over a decade. If that sounds a lot, well – it is. If all goes well we will buy seed from the early adopters after year three, process it and sell it on. Noble Foods’ retailers have started getting excited about the project too, and I’m sure the Beekeepers will be chuffed to bits.

Noble Foods heartI’m so excited about this wildflower meadow project because of its size and because it’s such a good illustration of why I set up Habitat Aid. This is in everyone’s interest, for reasons commercial as much as ecological. My (small ethical UK) seed supplier loves me. The farmers love Graham. The retailers/local community/beekeepers/consumers love Noble Foods. I’m sure the chickens will love the wildflower meadows too.

Thanks Graham – great stuff, and fingers crossed. I’m sure Noble Foods will benefit in ways we can’t yet even imagine!

Newsletter No.28: March 2013

March Newsletter
I’ve been sweating away upgrading our website, which has now gone live. Inevitably it has been a lot of work for what looks like not very much of a result (!), but it should significantly improve its performance.
We have included Black Poplars from Aylesbury Vale, which is very exciting. We can now offer either sex of this rare native tree.
In other news, we’ve been working on some large scale seed projects, for the Friends of the Earth’s Bee World project and Co-op’s Plan Bee. To say nothing of project Chicken (see below). Good stuff.
Talking about bees, it looks as if the campaigns to ban neonicotinoid pesticides in the UK are beginning to pay off, as retail outlets start to withdraw them from sale and political pressure mounts. More good news.
We’re at the Ecobuild show in London next week – do drop by if you’re there.

GiftReader Offer
We’re hugely appreciative of the personal recommendations we get which fuel our progress. As a small thank you to the readers of our newsletter, if you quote “HAL03/13” at our website checkout you will get a £10 discount on your purchase. I’ve cashed my own £10 in to buy some clay meadow seed mix in for our new house!

Matthew WilsonWe’re delighted to welcome Matthew Wilson to our Somerset HQ to give the keynote speech in our day for garden designers on using native plants. Our other external speakers are Ted Chapman from Kew and Pond Conservation’s Jeremy Biggs. Places are limited, so book now to avoid tears! It’s on the 21st June. Please email for further details.
Your Own Seed PacketsPlan Bee seeds
Wildflower seed packets are great for promotions or fund raising. We can offer a wide variety of bespoke packet designs. As you’d expect, our seed mixes are top quality, UK provenance, and designed around your requirements. We’d be delighted to quote for any sized job.
Not chicken feedNoble Foods
I’m delighted to reveal a fantastic project with Noble Foods, the biggest free range egg producer in the UK. We’re supplying them with the seed and support to create 800 acres of traditional wildflower meadow on their chicken farms over a ten year period. We’re starting with over 100 acres this spring, and will be harvesting seed from these initial sites to sell to later adopters. I’m thrilled with the scale and intent of the projest, and confident it will be a commercial boon for the client.