I can remember when I first put bird food out in the garden and waiting patiently with my face squashed up against the kitchen window for the birds to show up. I'd sit quietly with my grandfather's bird identification book to identify them one by one as they swooped down onto the bird table.
The birds never let me down.
At some point, however, I must have started to take it for granted that the birds would continue to show up, and I don't think there was ever any doubt in my mind that things would change. Why would they? The hedgerows were bubbling with sparrows, and the natural world was big enough to look after itself. Little did I know that things were already beginning to change.
I didn't spot the early days of bird decline. Others did: American biologist, Rachel Carson, warned of the dangers of chemical pesticides and 'initiated the contemporary environmental movement' with her book entitled Silent Spring.
Birds still showed up on the bird table, however.
Then I discovered why more and more birds were showing up on the bird table: wild birds were being forced out of the countryside; birds were leaving their natural landscape in search of food and a place to breed, and this 'place' was becoming our gardens.
When this penny finally dropped, I was determined to help more birds by improving the quality of bird food available in the UK. Haith's was founded by my grandfather in 1937 on the back of high-quality, clean food not being available for his budgies and canaries, and I knew he'd have been the first to step up to this challenge.
It was tough at first as wild bird food was seen as mainly kitchen scraps: a little bread, maybe bacon, at best peanuts, and not a great deal else. However, within months, I'd uncovered seeds and foods I believed could be used to supplement wild birds' natural diet. I consulted with bird-keepers and vets who understood the biology of birds, asking their advice on creating healthy foods.
Thanks to many of you reading this, my healthy bird food being critical for birds message has spread nationally, and I'm genuinely grateful for your support. It's indeed a good feeling to know that we're all caring for Britain's bird population together.
The investment to move to what we now call The Bird Food Centre was a massive leap of faith. There are so many bird food sellers in the UK. Frankly, it doesn't take a great deal of investment to enter the market and sell primarily uncleaned seed at rock bottom prices. I certainly don't mind a bit of healthy competition - I wish many of these companies would reinvest some of their profits in research and development (the way we have). That's the way to protect our dwindling population of wild birds. When our research uncovered that dust could be deadly to birds, I decided I couldn't compete with cheap bird food sellers as that's not what's best for birds.
The competition can copy our recyclable paper bags (which we’ve used for more than 50 years), ‘try’ to copy our bird food mixes (as many do, but can’t 100% because we do a lot more than meets the naked eye), they can copy our campaigns (but only the advertising, because what’s at the heart of our marketing is our QC efforts and investment in wildlife safety - to copy that takes commitment and investment), but what they can never copy is our Heritage (three generations of bird seed know how), and our commitment to nature and those who go out of their way to offer a helping hand to birds throughout the year (whatever the weather). These are the people we serve, the people like us - the people who love birds.
“I want to encourage you to tell your friends about Haith's. Not because we're cheap, not even because we're cheerful, but because we are here for people like you who care about nature.”
The real win for me, though, are the stories I hear from Haith's customers. Now, each time I fill my bird feeder, I think about the lengths we're all going to support wildlife together. And I never take for granted that the birds will show up as one day they might not.
I'm so grateful you've decided to help garden birds, to encourage and attract them with healthy bird food, to watch and enjoy their antics. I hope we can work together this autumn and winter to help the nation's birds make it through to spring in great shape.
My 20/20 vision is this: Together, we can make this better.
My personal 20/20 vision includes setting a fair price for high-quality food that works and is safe for garden birds. We are here to serve you and nature, which means we'll support the efforts you're making to protect wildlife.
• I want to encourage more people to feed the birds, and I accept (to do this) I need to help make it more affordable, but I also have to focus on high-quality food that works. I also have to continue to invest in science to further our understanding of what it takes to help birds thrive and survive. However, I have managed to introduce a number of ‘new lower prices’ for everyday products such as suet, dried mealworms and others soon to be announced.
• I want to encourage you to tell your friends about Haith's. Not because we're cheap, not even because we're cheerful, but because we are here for people like you who care about nature.
• I want to reinforce, however, the reason why Haith's exist: high-quality, safe bird food. What do I mean by safe? I'm thinking here specifically about our market-leading SuperClean project, which started in 1937, and is the root of everything we do at Haith's. I will not risk bird health to make a quick sale.
• I promise I won’t misuse your trust: In other words, if a product says it’s ‘huskfree’ or ‘doesn’t contain wheat’ for example that’s exactly what you can expect, and exactly what you are paying for.
• I will select the best seeds and foods available for our feathered friends and charge a fair price for the goods we offer. Our mixes are unique to Haith’s and feature some of the world’s finest seeds, which I select because they’re healthy and safe. Our investment in these superior seeds often means they’re more expensive, but I have blended them together because they work. That you can be sure of.
• I will personally test every bird food in my own garden before marketing it.
• Foods such as our softfoods are unique and offer a supreme choice to wildlife. They are expensive to blend and contain ingredients expensive to source and stock. They are unlike anything else on the market and blended by genuine experts in their field.
As I think back to those early days in the garden, I fear we're no longer feeding wild birds because it's a pleasant thing to do; I believe we're feeding wild birds because we have to fight for our wildlife, and if we fight for them together, we stand more chance of being victorious.
Together, we can make this better.
With best wishes