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The owner's vision

Statement by Henry and Felicity Edmunds owners of the Cholderton Estate

Our task at Cholderton has been to try to preserve a Victorian landscape, to augment it and to demonstrate a rapport between farming and conservation, while maintaining rural employment. The Estate has a diverse economy and employs some 20 people. This is not an exercise in philanthropy; the Estate has to be self-sustaining. The employees are required for animal husbandry, forestry, mechanics, building maintenance and general farm and conservation work. This level of employment would not be achieved on a conventional arable unit.

A recent publication by Deloitt & Touche, agricultural consultants, has called for one man to be responsible for 1,000 acres (400ha) of combinable crops or 1.25 million litres (0.27 million gallons) of milk. Yet in the same paper we are told that stress is becoming a major issue for the whole farming community, and the steadily rising numbers of suicides reflects this. Are these not analogous?

The land is driven by a productivity treadmill – an all-consuming dynamo that demands ever greater production for lower producer returns. This has been forced on the farming community by the continual decline in the value of its product and a failure by policy makers to link agricultural support to factors other than production itself.

The countryside is changing to accommodate these renewed pressures. Bigger machines need bigger fields; continuous cropping demands an intensive spraying programme. What place for wildlife in our hedgeless mega fields? What place for the family farm and the farm worker in an industry that will be dominated by robotic machines and chemicals? The Utopian ideal of the English countryside, celebrated by our greatest artists and poets, has nearly vanished. What is the value of a Turner or Constable, if that which it portrays so lovingly has been lost?
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The simplistic application of subsidies to cereals, with inadequate environmental safeguards, has been a disaster. There has been a steady drain of wildlife from our farms for centuries, but this process is now accelerating. Birds that were common even a decade ago have now nearly vanished. All wildlife benefits from a mixed farming regime, yet this has been discouraged under present support mechanisms.

What is the logic of a system that will culminate in the utter destruction of the landscape and its denizens over vast swathes of our countryside? Yet farming cannot survive without subsidies; we are not able to compete with countries that enjoy lower unit production costs, are not limited by welfare and safety restraints and enjoy a more equitable climate. Nor should we seek to do so. Ours is a small, overcrowded island. We must care for our landscapes and our wildlife. Excessive productivity and efficiency are a direct threat to the remnants of our rural ecology.

What you will see at Cholderton can be achieved only if farming is profitable. We are becoming increasingly depressed by the thought that we are representative of a system of farming that will soon vanish. Support mechanisms must be geared towards those systems of farming that are most conducive to the preservation of the tapestry of a diverse countryside, in all its many and varied aspects.

Our quest at Cholderton is to demonstrate that farming and a healthy environment can co-exist; to attempt to undertake the righteous task of husbandry but with the inclusion of nature rather than her exclusion; to foster wildlife and wild meadows; to maintain our local ancient breeds of domestic stock; to care for a spectacular landscape; to build soil fertility but not to pollute; to be as self sufficient as possible and yet to produce good quality, wholesome food for local consumption.


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