Farmer Nicholas Watts is famous for his wildlife-friendly approach to farming, particularly his bird seed business to encourage birds to live on his farm. But he’s also done a lot to tackle climate change too. He tells us how he’s made renewable energy part of his Lincolnshire farm.
I have always liked to use what I had on the farm rather, than go and buy something. It started when I bought a straw burner back in the late seventies to provide heating for my office, and huge vats to collect rain water to spray crops.
Around 1998 a wind turbine company approached several farms in my area. I jumped at the chance to generate my own renewable energy, and teamed up with another farmer to install eight turbines.
It took a long time to get off the ground. The company measured wing speed for two years to check turbines would even work, and our first planning application was rejected by the council. But, we won the appeal and the turbines started to turn in May 2006. Eight two megawatt turbines have been turning ever since.
In November 2012, I installed two more smaller turbines. The day of the installation was so rainy that the 100 ton crane got stuck in the mud! But these power my grain and refrigerated potato stores.
In 2003 I built a big barn to mix and pack bird seed. It was next to another of my refrigerated potato store - and the waste heat from the fridge system was wafting towards this new building. So, I moved the radiator and fans into the new building. Using waste heat means my heating bill for that building is zero.
As my bird seed business continued to expand, I needed a new building, and I wanted it to be heated using renewables too. After a bit of research I came up with using waste oil in a purpose-made heater. I used to have to pay someone to take the waste oil my tractors produced away, but now we use it for heating!
I had three farm buildings with south facing roofs, so in 2011 I installed solar on them. Since then the cost has come down so much, I’ve installed panels on another roof and in one of the fields that have free range poultry in.
All of this is saving a whole lot of money, and means I don’t use nearly as much polluting fossil fuels as I would have. It’s all about making the most of what you’ve already got.
Find out more about Vine House Farm at vinehousefarm.co.uk
Photo of Vine House Farm’s sunflowers for the bird seed, taken by Richard Humphrey, cc