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Diversification - introduction

Sustainable agriculture embraces a diversity of commercial initiatives on farms; in other words, agricultural land and buildings are used in imaginative ways that help landowners and local economies to earn a living with minimum damage to the environment.

The Cholderton Estate has several outstanding examples of diversification; some – such as its waterworks – are unlikely to be replicated elsewhere, but others will spark ideas for potential enterprises.

Rented grazing

The Cholderton Estate also earns revenue by caring for polo ponies over the winter. There are up to 80 polo ponies here until March each year.

This is a good use of the grasslands in winter, and a reasonable income earner. The ponies are checked at least once a day, and their supplies of water and hay are carefully monitored, but otherwise they need little in the way of supervision, apart from obvious security considerations. Each owner's ponies are kept in individual fields to prevent fighting between horses as they can be aggressive towards others from a different herd.

The owners are delighted with the care that their ponies receive and come back to Cholderton on a year-by-year basis.

Cleveland Bay horses

Cleveland Bays are a registered and long-established breed, more popular now than they have been for a hundred years. The breed was originally created in the north-east of England as a good, reliable mount and a tough all-rounder capable of pulling heavy loads. They were at their most popular in Victorian times, when they were often used as carriage horses because they were strong and ‘steady’, as well as uniform in colour.

A Cleveland Bay stud was founded on the Cholderton Estate by its owner – Henry Charles Stephens – in the 1880s, and many Cleveland Bays were reared to work on the Estate, for sale in the UK and for export. Two Clevelands, Cholderton Rex and Cholderton Robert, were sold to the royal family in 1946, and they pulled carriages bearing members of the royal family and notable public figures on many state occasions.

But by the 1970s Cleveland Bays had fallen completely out of fashion. Only four stallions were left in the world. Two of these were at Cholderton, and it is these stallions that kept the breed alive. Since they had no economic value then, it was only affection for the breed that made Captain L Edmunds (Henry Edmunds’ father) keep them going.

It was fortunate he did, as today the breed is once again highly sought after, with much of the interest coming from the USA. Horse sales to the USA are now a regular contributor to the Estate’s finances, to the extent that two people are employed on a regular basis as grooms.

Horse ‘farming’ fits in well with Cholderton’s other agricultural regimes, where grass leys and re-seeded permanent grasslands form part of the overall land use strategy. As an added benefit, horses can be good for some wildlife; for example, their manure attracts insects that are preyed upon by the Estate’s healthy bat population.


Of the 500 or so lambs sent for slaughter each year (to Chippenham in Wiltshire), about 300 are returned to Cholderton for sale locally by the Estate. This is a real ‘cottage’ enterprise, with orders taken by phone at the Estate office and the meat distributed by Estate staff.

Hampshire down sheep have long been recognised for rapid growth and the excellent flavour of their lamb. A recent breed promotion has resulted in a huge amount of interest by customers of selected butcher's shops, many asking specifically for Hampshire down lamb. A leading supermarket chain has stated that they wish to have half of all their lambs sired by Hampshire ram.

Beef and pork from the Estate are also sold.

Meat sales are a successful and growing enterprise, so much so that a farm shop is planned for the near future. The quality of the Estate’s meat is already well known locally and, as the Estate is now certified organic, there is no doubt that sales will grow.

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Woodland cemetery

This could be an enterprise that in the long term earns more than any of the other diversification endeavours undertaken on the Estate.

The county of Wiltshire has more-or-less run out of ‘traditional’ cemetery plots and, at the same time, woodland burials are gaining in popularity. No special laws or rules apply to such burials, except that all water sources must be protected from potential pollution. The area chosen for Cholderton’s woodland burials is far from any water course or water source.

One of the reasons for the popularity of such burials is that any form of ceremony – or no ceremony – can accompany the interment. As the demand for non-religious rituals increases, this has an obvious appeal, while conversely those who wish only to place their loved ones in a beautiful, peaceful spot can choose a plot under an existing mature tree, or have a young tree planted as a lasting memorial.

At present, there are few places in the UK where woodland burials take place, so a premium can be charged for this service. The Estate may extend this to include horse-drawn hearse transportation.

For more information on woodland burials click here

The Cholderton and District Water Company

The company was established by Act of Parliament in 1904. The supply of fresh water had been a particular interest of Henry Charles Stephens. When he originally purchased the village of Shipton Bellinger in Hampshire, there was a rudimentary mains water system in place, with water being moved by a wind pump from a well on the outskirts of the village to a small reservoir on a nearby hill. At that time Cholderton and its outlying houses relied entirely on domestic wells with hand pumps.

Henry C Stephens determined to improve the system and promoted his Water Act through Parliament. This gave the company powers to lay mains and construct reservoirs, and to supply and sell water in the Parishes of Cholderton and Bulford in Wiltshire and Shipton Bellinger, Thruxton, Amport and Quarley in Hampshire. A detailed schedule of pumping stations and reservoirs together with water mains was incorporated within the Act. These works were subsequently undertaken and a large proportion of them are still in use.

A soft water plant was constructed, to treat the very highly calcified water and supply the Estate laundry via a bespoke reservoir and water main. A large reservoir was constructed with a view to supplying Andover, though this did not take place.

The Water Company today has approximately 60 kilometres of water supply pipe. All repairs and replacements of these pipes are undertaken by an in house engineer and maintenance men. The water is tested weekly and has to meet the rigorous standards of the 1989 Water Act. The testing is carried out by Wessex Water and the whole process is inspected by the Drinking Water Inspectorate. The company achieves very high levels of purity. The water is very alkaline and has high levels of dissolved carbonates, quantities that are apparently highly beneficial for the human heart. The taste is excellent and clarity perfect.

The company supplies around 2,500 people in an area of around 21 square kilometres through some 1400 service connections. The Cholderton and District Water Company is the last survivor of what was once a fairly common phenomenon – the Statutory Estate Water Supply. There are many farms and other holdings that still supply a few houses, but Cholderton is the only one left that was set up by Act of Parliament. All the others have been absorbed into the former water authorities or by larger regional water companies.

At a time when water quality is under increasing threat from industrial and agricultural run-off, and from falling water tables, sources of pure water are likely to become more and more valuable. Because of Henry Edmunds’ policy of minimum use of chemicals in the past, and the conversion to organic systems now, the chalk underlying the Cholderton Estate has been subject to very little pollution; indeed the only measurable pollutant ever recorded was from an external source.

For the Cholderton Estate, the Water Company is another money-earning business that contributes to overall income, but it also integrates the Estate with local life and culture.

Light industry

The Cholderton Estate hosts one of the most successful small enterprises in the area, employing 43 local people.

Called Country Leisure, it specialises in the manufacture of fibre glass products such as slides for swimming pools. The company is based in a converted 18th-century farm building and an associated complex of modern, purpose-built workshops. It has the advantage of immediate access to the adjacent A303 trunk road.

This is an example of how both the Estate (which rents the land and buildings to County Leisure) and the local community have benefited from the diversification concept. The old building was no longer required for agricultural purposes and is located in an area that was sidelined from the Estate when the A303 was improved, so it is good use of a redundant resource. And the employment gains for the local area have been significant.

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