The other day, I went to interview John Stimpson. John makes a range of nestboxes as well as other wildlife products such as bird tables and hedgehog shelters. For many years he had a garden nursery and just made a few nestboxes as a sideline, initially to provide boxes for his brother's garden to prevent his brother from paying "silly prices" for commercially-produced boxes. When John decided to give up the nursery business, he also decided to spend more time on nestboxing, or what he calls his "glorified hobby".
|John Stimpson in his workshop (click to enlarge)|
Today, John also produces more specialist boxes, notably for Barn Owls, Kestrels and Swifts. For the design of these, he took advice from specialists in the field. In the case of his Swift box - he only produces one type - he was advised by Dick, who based the design on the Dutch Zeist box.
|The original computer model used by John|
John uses 12mm ply, which is described as "Far Eastern hardwood exterior quality ply". As a precaution, he gives his boxes a coat of preservative, and estimates that in normal conditions, ie not exposed to excessive sunlight or precipitation, they have an indefinite life. I asked him if the ply was from a sustainable source such as wood that bears the FSC stamp, and he assured me that his suppliers said it was.
|Swift nest boxes ready for the new season (click to enlarge)|
Although John supplies only the one-size-fits-all Zeist-style box, he has on occasion undertaken to provide tailor-made boxes, as happened at the Maltings in Ely, where the spaces between the protruding rafters were all different. It is a costly and time-consuming business, though, so not something that John will undertake lightly. And, in a way, he doesn't need to. His reputation for quality and price has spread by word-of-mouth, underpinned by his frequent exhibitions at agricultural shows, village fetes and fairs and the like, thereby bringing in a steady flow of orders. He agrees that he received an enormous boost when the profile of the Swift was raised following its admission to the Amber list of Conservation Concern
I asked him about feedback. Although he asks every customer to let him know what happens, the feedback is disappontingly, but not surprisingly, no more than 15%, and that is usually from people who either want to communicate their joy at having breeding Swifts in their box, or from people who express indignation that they haven't. He recounted one striking success story of an order for six boxes from a woman who was having work done on her house, which necessitated scaffolding and other disturbance to her colony. The boxes were all immediately occupied, so she ordered another four, and these were immediately occupied too.
Before I left John, I asked him for a tour of his workshop. I make a few nestboxes myself, using some very basic equipment - a rickety old Bosch drill, my father's old tenon saw, a ratchet screwdriver, and an assortment of mostly recycled screws. John's equipment is mouth-watering: a state-of-the-art Bench Saw, a shiny new Band Saw and two Chop Saws. As to screws, he says with a grin that his suppliers, Screwfix, describe him as their "best customer" - he gets through thousands of screws every year.
The impression that John makes on his visitors is that of a happy man, doing what he enjoys most, getting satisfaction from knowing that he produces a good box at a fair price, and knowing, too, that he is making a contribution to the conservation of wildlife.
Lang may your lum reek, John Stimpson!
Contact details for John: email@example.com 01353 740451