The Cholderton Estate
is a large, organic, mixed farm comprising several hundred acres
of crops and extensive pasture and downland that supports two dairy
herds, a beef herd and hundreds of sheep. The Estate is home to
rare breeds of stock, including the purebred Cleveland Bay horses
and Hampshire Down sheep.
Rotations between crops
and pasture are aligned to the needs of wildlife, particularly birds.
The farm is as self-sufficient as possible, with crops grown to
feed the farm’s livestock. Field headlands support rare arable
weeds, and a traditional variety of the legume sainfoin is grown
as forage for sheep, for fixing nitrogen and to attract insects.
Over 40 miles of hedgerows
are managed for invertebrates, birds and small mammals. Other land
management involves rough grass field margins, beetle banks, coppicing
of woodland, tree planting and low-intensity grazing to promote
In addition to sustainable
management practices, the Estate has an impressive programme of
environmental enhancement, including chalk downland restoration,
pond creation and the provision of nestboxes for owls and a hibernaculum
All of the farm management
practices contribute to a beautiful landscape and an exceptional
wealth and diversity of wildlife.
Crops & fields margins
2,500 acres (1,000ha) are divided broadly as follows: 1,100 acres
(440ha) is put down to grass, forage and leys; 550 acres (220ha)
is arable; 50 acres (20ha) is kale and turnips; 500 acres (200ha)
is held under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, and the rest
are sown at Cholderton in the autumn and the spring. Autumn sowing
commences in early October and spring sowing generally in February
or March, depending on soil conditions.
Oats are the
favoured crop for autumn sowing, as these are particularly suited
for growing in organic conditions. They are vigorous, tend to
suppress weeds, and produce a nutritious grain that can be fed
to livestock or sold for rolling to make porridge. Harvesting
takes place in September, and all the straw is baled and retained
for animal feed or for bedding.
Barley is sown in the spring into
seedbeds that have been made in the autumn by ploughing stubble
or grass fields that have reached the end of their productive
life. Barley is not as vigorous as oats and does not suppress
weeds to the same extent. Weeds may be controlled by the careful
use of a flexi tine harrow but this is only used occasionally
and never when ground-nesting birds are present. This implement
is drawn by a tractor up and down the rows of young barley and
is able to remove weeds mechanically while doing the minimum amount
of damage to the crop. Normally one pass is adequate to achieve
the required weed control in the growing crop.
is harvested in August. All the grain is stored at the main granary
and is rolled for consumption by the cattle. Normally enough grain
is gathered in to feed the stock until the next harvest. All straw
is baled and is used for bedding and for feeding to the livestock.
form part of a rotation. This takes the following form:
Year 1 legume/grass
Year 2 legume/grass ley
Year 3 legume/grass ley
Year 4 spring barley
Year 5 winter oats
Year 6 winter oats
Year 7 legume/grass ley
Year 8 legume/grass ley
can be put into the system by the use of fodder crops such as
kale and protein crops such as vetches.
Kale is grown as forage for the dairy herds and to build soil
fertility. Growing extremely vigorously in the autumn, it is frost-hardy
and is grazed by the cows, access being controlled by an electric
fence. When the grazing has been completed, the kale stubble is
topped and spread with well-rotted manure. Spring barley follows.
Vetches are an extremely vigorous
leguminous crop. They completely smother all weeds and are very
attractive to pollinating insects during the mid-summer flowering
season. They die off and are harvested in mid-September. The seed
can be used as a protein supplement for cattle feed. Vetches clean
the ground and build soil fertility. Vetches are also sown with
oats in the autumn and used for silage in the following spring,
producing exceptional crops.
In line with
Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) guidelines, the headlands
or margins of some arable fields are allowed to become grassy
strips. These have immediate, and low cost, benefits for wildlife.
They provide nest sites and forage areas for grey partridges;
provide cover for rodents, which in turn become prey for barn
owls; and act as ‘wildlife corridors’ connecting different
natural features of the Estate for the benefit of wildlife. The
bigger fields are divided by 'beetle banks', which have a similar
botanical composition to the arable margins. As the organic regime
at Cholderton becomes mature, it seems likely that these margins
will become richer in beneficial wild plants.
Transition from 'Inorganic' to Organic Grassland
For many years
the farm has been managed on a semi-organic basis. Nitrogen fertilisers
were used on the grassland, amounting to approximately 200 units
of nitrogen per acre (0.4ha) per annum; but about 10–15%
of the total acreage of pasture was composed of legumes such as
red clover, sainfoin and Lucerne, mixed with cocksfoot, meadow
fescue, timothy and perennial ryegrass. These leys received no
fertiliser, but were dressed with manure in the autumn or after
a hay or silage cut. The remaining pastures were composed of ryegrass,
timothy and white clover mixtures. The white clover varieties
then available were not persistent and these leys required a supplementary
nitrate dressing to boost production to levels necessary to maintain
the stock enterprises.
to an organic system has meant the complete cessation of the use
of artificial nitrogenous fertilisers. All nitrate is now supplied
from composted manure derived from the grazing stock and from
the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that attach themselves to the roots
of leguminous plants.
species of leguminous plant in use are:
This has been grown at Cholderton since 1730. There were once
several local (Landrace) varieties of this important fodder plant;
these types included Cotswold common, Essex common, Cambridge
common and Vale of Glamorgan common. Of these only Cotswold common
and our variety, Hampshire common, remain in cultivation. Each
variety was selected over generations for the particular local
holy hay – it is a magical plant, with beautiful racemes
of pink flowers in June. Animals thrive on its high protein, non-bloating
fodder. It is the best source of nectar for honey bees. It is
also very attractive to a whole range of pollinating insects;
bumble bees being present in huge numbers in flowering crops.
Sainfoin seed is harvested most years and is used on the Estate
to sow an additional acreage. It can remain in the same field
for up to 80 years.
Clover This later flowering legume is ideal for silage
production. It responds well to the application of farmyard manure
and is mixed with perennial ryegrass and timothy to boost yields.
It is not grazed in the spring, but a silage or hay cut is taken
later and the aftermath grazed until the late autumn, care being
taken to ensure the plant is not damaged by trampling in wet conditions.
These leys are left down for three to four years before being
ploughed for cereal production.
Like red clover, this later flowering legume is good for silage
or hay production. It is frequently strip-grazed by the dairy
cows and then dressed with farmyard manure. It can be particularly
productive in late summer and autumn and is very resistant to
drought. Butterflies are very attracted to its flowers in August
and September. In a favourable year many thousands of butterflies
– 12 different species – can be seen nectaring.
cause bloat, so it is necessary to restrict its accessibility.
In time cattle do appear to become less susceptible. Lucerne is
sown as a part of a mixture with cocksfoot, ryegrass and timothy.
These grasses help the cattle to digest this highly nutritious
Clover This is the most widely grown forage legume on
the Estate. It is the main workhorse of the general purpose, grazing-forage
can produce up to 250 units of nitrogen per acre (0.4ha) per annum.
It is therefore capable of giving a huge boost to its accompanying
grasses. White Clover is highly nutritious but in certain conditions
is quite likely to give stock bloat. The flowers are attractive
to honey bees; while it does not compete with sainfoin as a nectar
producer, it does flower over a longer period. White clover leys
are both grazed and used for silage and hay production. Fertility
is maintained by the application of farmyard manure. Leys are
left down for one to six years and are then followed by a cereal
is the essential basis for the livestock enterprises on the Estate.
The dairy herds and their followers, the Hampshire Down sheep
and the Cleveland Bays, all graze over the grass fields for most,
if not all, of the year. They also rely on forage harvested during
the spring and summer for winter feed, in the form of either hay
falls into two main categories. Approximately one third is managed
under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in order to regenerate
chalk downland and assist those birds and insects that are associated
with this important habitat. Some of the fields were previously
part of the arable enterprise, but were allowed to regenerate
into grassland, without the addition of purchased seed. These
fields now have over a hundred species of wild flowers and grasses.
This has been achieved through a combination of late topping,
which allows desirable species to set seed, and low-density livestock
have never been ploughed but were overgrown with scrub or by rank
grasses. A vigorous regime of selective scrub clearance and well-timed
grazing has initiated a remarkable renaissance, so that some sites
now carry over 130 species of plants and a complex insect fauna
as well. One locality can swarm with hornet
robber flies, as well as having a population of adonis and
chalkhill blue butterflies. A further site has recently also been
reclaimed by the chalkhill blue and grizzled skipper butterflies.
of the grassland consists of leys that carry livestock at a higher
density and provide the great bulk of hay and silage. These leys
are formed from seed mixtures carefully tailored for each particular
field, with a view to optimising grazing and/or forage conservation.
There is a strong leguminous content. Legumes provide the grasses
with essential nitrogenous compounds, which will boost soil fertility
and encourage grass growth. They are also an important source
of protein for grazing animals and a source of nectar for pollinating
insects. Legumes are a crucial component of life in the countryside:
land deficient in legumes will have a paucity of insect life,
and this will have further knock-on effects on the environment
as a whole.
Care is taken
to ensure that a selection of legumes is incorporated in the leys
so that there is flowering for as much of the growing season as
possible. White Clover, used as a mix of different forms, flowers
from early summer through to the autumn. Red clover is a summer
and autumn flowerer, and is particularly attractive to bumble
bees. Lucerne flowers in the late summer and autumn and is very
attractive to butterflies and a wide variety of other insects.
Sainfoin is the highest nectar producer of all. It flowers in
June and will attract so many bees that great care must be taken
when walking through the crops.
of a ley should be planned not only with a view to top growth
but also to the rooting characteristics of the species incorporated
within it. Cocksfoot grass is a vigorous rooter, producing great
mop-heads of roots that spread and penetrate deeply into the soil.
Such is the effect of these roots that land formerly devoid of
structure will be turned into a beautifully crumbly garden compost
in a few seasons. Subsequent crops grown in this soil will benefit
from soil that is higher in organic matter, more moisture-retentive
and better able to maintain fertility. The higher organic matter
content boosts the levels of micro organisms in the soil –
the complex interaction of these bacteria, microforms and fungi
is little understood, but that they are highly beneficial, and
indeed essential, to the sustainability of agriculture is beyond
contention. Legumes are also generally deep-rooting and when ploughed
help to develop the soil structure – the decomposition of
the nitrogen-fixing rhyzobia attached to their roots releases
nitrogen compounds, which will boost the performance of subsequent
It is interesting
to reflect that the most promoted and widely used species of grass
– perennial ryegrass – is actually not good at building
soil fertility. It has a shallow and very limited rooting system
and consequently is very prone to drought. Though capable of good
growth in the spring and early summer, when soils are still damp,
it can be virtually useless in the summer and autumn until the
wet weather returns.
Leys at Cholderton
incorporate perennial ryegrasses to optimise early growth, but
also contain other species, such as timothy and cocksfoot, to
boost mid and late season growth, in addition to building soil
fertility. White clover will be incorporated in a mix of types
to encourage forage conservation or grazing throughout the season.
Herbs such as chicory and plantain are also included both to encourage
deep-rooting and to boost the mineral uptake of grazing stock.
Cholderton general purpose ley (per acre/0.4ha) consists of:
6.5lb (3kg) white clover (blend)
15.5lb (7kg) perennial ryegrass (blend)
1lb (0.5kg) plantain
6.5lb (3kg) timothy
A large acreage
of sainfoin is grown at Cholderton. Sainfoin must be mixed with
a less competitive grass if the rosettes are not to be overshadowed
during the winter and late summer. Generally meadow grass and
red fescue are satisfactory in these circumstances.
Cholderton type sainfoin ley mix per acre (0.4ha) might be:
62lb (28kg) sainfoin
9lb (4kg) meadow fescue
1lb (0.5kg) plantain
6.5lb (3kg) red fescue
be taken as hay or silage with the aftermath then grazed by cattle.
Less competitive grasses are again incorporated in the mix (per
10lb (4.5kg) meadow fescue
performs well on our deepest soils but does not prosper on the
thinnest chalk, where sainfoin reigns supreme. Red clover mixes
have tended to be incorporated with a more general purpose ley:
11lb (5kg) perennial ryegrass
4.5lb (2kg) cocksfoot
2lb (1kg) white clover blend
5.5lb (2.5kg) timothy (wild white)
legume seeds vary in size and weight. It is essential to take
this into account when working on the composition of new mixtures.
of seeds per lb/0.45kg weight
1lb (0.45kg) contains 1,170,500 seeds
Meadow fescue – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 236,000 seeds
Cocksfoot – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 426,000 seeds
Italian ryegrass – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 285,000 seeds
Perennial ryegrass – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 223,000 seeds
Red clover – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 230,000 seeds
White clover – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 740,000 seeds
Lucerne – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 200,000 seeds
Sainfoin – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 22,500 seeds
Red fescue – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 400,000 seeds
Sheep fescue – 1lb (0.45kg) contains 680,000 seeds
are normally established by undersowing spring barley. This involves
working down the seedbed with discs and harrows prior to drilling
the barley at half the normal rate. After drilling the barley,
the ground is harrowed and rolled with a Cambridge roller. The
grass seed is then drilled over the barley, with the drill merely
scraping the surface of the ground to ensure that the small seeds
are not buried too deeply. The field is then rolled again by the
Cambridge roller, the action of which both covers in and consolidates
the seed bed.
right weather conditions, a fine young pasture should be apparent
by the autumn, when the barley crop is harvested and the straw
removed. An undersown stubble such as this offers excellent feeding
and protection for birds such as grey partridge, corn bunting
Leys are left
down for five years before being ploughed to revert to arable
for two or three years. In the course of its life, the ley will
have improved soil structure and fertility, and will also have
suppressed arable weeds.
crop will have the best possible start, in a fine, crumbly seedbed
rich in nutrients, and will probably require little, if any, weed
The hedgerows at Cholderton
make a tremendous impact on the overall landscape, and they make
a significant contribution to wildlife diversity. They are carefully
managed to maintain maximum benefit for wildlife.
The hedges fall into
three main types. Some are sporadic with grass between usually untrimmed
bushes, mostly of Hawthorn and Blackthorn. These tend only to be
trimmed occasionally; when time permits or when repairs have to
be carried out on the fences. Others are continuous but carefully
trimmed and hold a wide diversity of herbaceous species. The continuous
trimmed hedges, particularly those on the roadside, are cut annually,
but with great care and generally allowing the hedge to thicken
and increase in width slowly. These hedges are only cut on one side
and on the top, the field side is generally left uncut or very lightly
trimmed. Yet others are continuous but rampant, high and wide, receiving
only a light trimming to one side and having a wide spectrum of
the hedges have become gappy or need renewing, they are replanted
with a mixture of hawthorn, blackthorn and other native species.
Felling is carried out
only on a selective basis. Timber is cut to allow more light into
the woodland, for thinning or the removal of over-mature or dead
trees. However, every effort has been made to retain a wide age
range within every woodland. To encourage as broad a spectrum of
wildlife as possible, it is essential to retain this diversity.
Trees vary from saplings to maturing and over-mature, or actually
dead. Hazel can form dense stands in some areas of the woodlands.
These were over-mature and had shaded out the woodland flora. These
old hazels have all been coppiced and are now resprouting. It is
hoped there will soon be enough hazel to encourage a hurdlemaker
to harvest it on a regular basis. This would ensure that the developing
woodland flora continues to flourish.
When planted, shrubby
species are protected by spiral shelters with a bamboo cane. Trees
are protected against deer with a tube and stake. This is very effective
against roe and muntjac deer, the two species resident here. Cleavers
(goosegrass) and old man’s beard are the most troublesome
weeds of new plantings. These are cleared away by cutting or treading
down during the summer and autumn. No chemical control is used.
Woodland thinnings are used for firewood. Ash and oak have been
cut at the Estate sawmill for joinery.
Click here for details about suplements
Many of the estate woodlands have areas of
hazel that were formerly coppiced. The hazel was cut to produce
‘shores’ – small round stakes driven into the
ground to secure hurdles. The small sticks were used to make thatching
spars and the brush saved as stakes for garden peas. Larger hazel
was cut for firewood. Some hurdles were made, though many were purchased,
to enclose the folded flocks of sheep.
Some of the most threatened British species
of butterfly like the pearl bordered fritillary, small pearl bordered
fritillary and the Duke of Burgundy fritillary require the early
successive habitat offered by recently coppiced or felled areas
of woodland. They breed on dog violet and primrose which flourish
on these sunny sheltered sites.
The hazel is now being cut regularly
again and dog violet and primrose are being introduced to sites
where they do not occur. Some trees, particularly yew, will be cut
in areas to reduce the woodland canopy to 20% of cover. When the
violets and primrose are proliferating, a reintroduction of the
pearl bordered fritillaries will be attempted.