Over 200 years old, featuring a beautiful house and stunning country views, it’s very much a traditional estate. But it’s also at the cutting edge of innovation in biodiversity and sustainable farming practices, including through a sustainable dairy herd. Cows have a particularly bad reputation when it comes to sustainability, so I was curious to learn more.
With all of this in mind, I was delighted when James Fuller, who owns the estate with his family, invited me to come and what’s happening on the farm. You can see a film of my visit at the bottom of this article.
Neston Park is home to a stunning dairy herd of 400 Jersey cows, who provide milk for the on-site cheese and ice cream businesses, The Old Cheese Room and Luscious. The dairy works closely with the cheesemakers and ice cream makers, as well as other milk customers, making sure that the right milk goes to the right applications. Milk has different butterfat and protein content at different times of day – afternoon milk is the best for ice cream, apparently!
In addition to land for cereals, 7% of the land area is set aside for conservation purposes. That can range from fields for birdseed to increased field margins to encourage insects and bees. The estate has 150 acres of woodland, some of it ancient, as well as remains of a Roman Villa.
James was able to tell me about the impact this sustainable approach has made. The farm is now at least carbon-neutral, if not carbon-positive. The more I learn about farming, the more I recognise it’s not cows that are to blame for climate change, any more than it is any other individual contributor - it’s how we manage our ecosystems!
Since converting to organic in 2003, and then joining the Higher Level Stewardship scheme and introducing increasingly sustainable practices, the estate has seen wildlife returning that has not been seen for many years. Brown hares, rare birds and other creatures are all returning.
Despite its traditional appearance, the farm is also very modern. Microchips attached to each of the cows monitor their health constantly, sending alerts to the farmers’ mobile phones whenever one of the ewes needs attention.
This year, the farm is experimenting with using woodchips as a sustainable form of bedding for the herd, making sure that ash trees felled to stop the spread of disease go to good use.
James and his team taught me so much, not just about modern sustainable farming practices, but also about what it’s like to take on responsibility for an estate. That responsibility extends, of course, to any staff and tenants, but also the animals, to the craftspeople and businesses that turn your produce into products for the public, and to the land itself.
I’m grateful to James for his extremely generous hospitality, and for helping me to understand what a challenge I’m taking on with my own farming adventure at Ewhurst Park. I hope to write more about that very soon!