Conservationist’s business focuses on garden wildlife

Banbury Cake: Rob Allan, left, and Marcus Waley Cohen. Picture: OX64494 Mark Hemsworth Buy this photo Rob Allan, left, and Marcus Waley Cohen. Picture: OX64494 Mark Hemsworth

LOCKED in the grip of foul January weather, it is hard to envisage flower meadows with wildlife foraging and insects buzzing around in the summer sun.

But Marcus Waley Cohen is trying to help create a natural, blooming environment on our doorsteps.

Along with Rob Allan, manager of his family's Upton Estate north of Banbury, he has set up a new business called Birds and Bees that is designed to help create a better environment for everyone.

So far most of the effort has been focused on the bird end of the business, with a wide range of feeds, seeds, dispensers and boxes to encourage feathered friends to visit our gardens.

Come spring, it will offer pollen-rich flower seeds such as lavender to grow, which will help preserve and encourage bees and other insects by offering a slice of their natural habitat, much of which has been lost by intensive farming methods in recent years.

The business has taken root as a result of Mr Waley Cohen and Mr Allan spending 10 years transforming the Upton Estate into a wildlife haven, overseeing a major revival of birds, bees and butterflies.

Mr Waley Cohen said: “We have dedicated ourselves to conservation, operating a high level of stewardship to bring more wildlife to the countryside.”

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In 2012 Mr Allan scooped the prestigious title Countryside Farmer of the Year at the Farmers Weekly awards for his work transforming the Upton Estate.

A key part of his work was to create ‘scallops’ – patches of bare soil bordering woodland that have been cleared to provide a habitat for butterflies, moths and bees.

Now the time has come to spread the message through the medium of Birds and Bees to gardeners and home owners.

Mr Waley Cohen, 36, the fourth generation of his family to farm at the Upton Estate, said: “The idea is to put what we have done here into people’s gardens, which will in turn help the farm continue to look after wildlife.”

Mr Waley Cohen is determined to present an alternative to fertilisers and other chemicals such as pesticides.

And he believes the tide may be changing.

“There are good intentions from Government to encourage farmers to look after wildlife but there has to be a solid, practical reason for doing it. We are creating a coherent loop from farm to garden.”

Mr Waley Cohen is so confident his new enterprise is a sound investment that he has invested £1m in launching it.

Some of the money has gone on hiring an agency that has produced bag designs that are “full of life and fun.”

Based only on the Internet, Birds and Bees seems to have immediate appeal.

“In the first three months we have had about 3,000 customers,” said Mr Waley Cohen.

The medium-term aim is to broaden the network of farms being used and encourage them to use more land in an ecologically friendly fashion.

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