September 5, 2008

Inside the Farm Where Animals Are Thriving … Even Wild Ones

By Jenny Haworth Environment Correspondent

FROM water voles to sea trout, Pittarthie is teeming with wildlife that would rarely be spotted on other farms.

Its owner, Patrick Bowden-Smith, has been so successful in attracting wildlife to his farm in Fife that he is representing Scotland in a UK competition.

Sea trout returned for the first time in 60 years after he built a fish ladder in his burn so they could get to spawning beds.

And eels wriggle in the water, which is protected from fertilisers seeping out of fields by high banks and run-off pools.

The farmer has built the first "duck decoy" in Scotland for more than a century, enabling wild migratory birds such as mallards and widgeon to be tagged in order to gather valuable population information.

Mink are enticed into a tunnel where they are trapped and killed to protect wildfowl and areas of wetland have been planted with watercress to attract water voles.

Wildlife-friendly fences, thick hedgerows around fields and wind- powered water pumps are among other numerous schemes put in by Mr Bowden-Smith.

The 185-hectare livestock farm in East Neuk, Fife, has been in the farmer's family since the 16th century. As well as being a wildlife haven, it is a fully operational working farm.

"What I enjoy is knowing that the farm is still commercially viable, productive and well-managed, but we are still increasing the wildlife every year," said Mr Bowden-Smith, 49.

"You don't have to sacrifice big bits of land. You don't have to sacrifice a lot to gain a lot.

"I want to see a hedge around every field, but I still want it to be productive. After all, a farm is a business. It's not a park. It's my livelihood."

Karen Cunningham, advisory officer for RSPB Scotland, praised Mr Bowden-Smith's efforts. "It's not what you would expect every farmer to do. But if every farmer could take a little bit of what Patrick is doing it would make a huge difference."

Mr Bowden-Smith will compete for public votes against farmers in Wiltshire, the Isle of Wight and the Vale of Glamorgan to win the GBP 1,000 top prize in the RSPB Nature of Farming competition.


After a series of steps were built in a burn on the farm, spawning sea trout returned for the first time in 60 years. At the top of the ladder is a mink tunnel. Mink use it as a crossing point, but are trapped and killed.


Most of the electricity on the farm is provided by wind turbines and solar panels, which power the electric fences and pumps to draw water from the burn into the cattle troughs.


Pools have been planted with watercress, a favourite food of the water vole. Other plants provide shelter and rafting material for the endangered creature.


The corner of a field has been planted with kale, quinoa, sweet clover and mustard to attract grey partridge, corn buntings, pheasants, finches, wagtails and woodpeckers.


Thick hedgerows surround many of the fields in the farm. They provide a haven for wildlife and connect habitats. Patrick Bowden- Smith hopes one day all his fields will have hedges around them.


Inquisitive ducks are enticed into a narrow pool area by following a stuffed fox on wheels. There the ducks are caught and tagged. It is the first duck decoy built in Scotland for over a century.

You can vote online at by 26 September.

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