Friday, 24 October 2014

The National Trust turns the wheel of fortune for two young farmers!

Camilla, Roly and Belle in front of the Donkey wheel which was built in 1865

A few days ago I visited a young couple who have just completed their first year farming Saddlescombe farm, a 450 acre National Trust farm which is situated in the South Downs National Park just 5 miles north of Brighton in Sussex. 

Camilla and Roly Pusey run Saddlescombe as a mixed farm, which at the moment has 300 breeding ewes, lots of lambs, 5 rams and a small herd of pedigree Sussex cows. They are selling boxed lamb direct from the farm and also through their website. They have also recently started to supply their lamb to local pubs which will undoubtedly begin to put them firmly on the map I'm quite sure!

The farm has a large Higher Level Stewardship scheme which helps Camilla and Roly to integrate conservation in with the production side of the farm. They leave weedy stubbles over-winter, coupled with good sized plots of Wild bird seed mix for farmland birds to feed on (They have Corn Bunting on the farm amongst many other species). They leave a large cultivated plot for Lapwing to nest on and are planting wildflowers across the farm.

They have also inherited some wonderful steep banks of old chalk grassland and Roly, with the help of the Sussex cattle and local volunteers is tackling the encroachment of scrub, which has slowly been enveloping the whole area. Roly was chuffed to see an amazing response to all his first winter’s hard work scrub bashing and organising the stock grazing, as the following summer a wonderfully colourful display of flowers appeared, including a number of Orchids! 

I was really struck by the enthusiasm that Camilla and Roly showed throughout my visit. They have a big task ahead of them to bring the farm up to scratch and develop other projects to help make the whole enterprise profitable. But they positively seemed to be thriving on the task, despite also having two small children in tow, they have an assortment of ideas afoot.

Already Camilla runs a Bed & Breakfast in the house and another clever idea that they have evolved is to “be a shepherd for the day or evening”! On offer, depending on what time of year it is, which includes all sorts of hands on activities and challenges to help people spend time together with the sheep. This ranges from helping deliver new born lambs, to handling and weighing sheep, through to working with the one and only farm employee - Belle the sheepdog - who will help the visitors gather and move a flock of sheep.

Camilla and Roly are working in a truly beautiful part of England and along with a range of different farmland habitats to manage, they also have some wonderfully old and historic buildings under their care. Once again the couple are brimming with ideas as to how these buildings might be utilised in the future. My favourite was a superb Donkey turned water wheel built in 1865, although the well from which it raises the water from has apparently been there for “Donkey years before that”!

As a National Trust member of long standing, I am very pleased to see the organisation placing young farmers into their properties, rather than potentially considering the easy option of renting out the house and contract farming the land. In Camilla and Roley the Trust has found two very hard working, committed and forward thinking tenants and I wish them the very best of luck.

So, my message to the National Trust is very simple: Look after them until the business is fully up and running and they will do the Trust proud, of that I'm sure!

If you want to watch how Saddlescombe farm is getting on through the year – go to:

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