The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Holystone Estate Farm is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.
Holystone Estate Farm
1HOLYSTONE ESTATE FARM |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE
Janet and Chris Watmore
Farm buildings nestled in
the Coquet Valley
Janet Watmore and her husband, Christopher, are lifetime
partners in both marriage and business. Prior to acquiring
Holystone Estate in 2010, they had spent 54 years together
owning and operating turf-growing business Turfland. Previously
owned for almost a century by one of the wealthiest families
in the UK, the estate originally covered 8,000 acres of land;
when Janet and Christopher fell in love with it in 2010, it was
down to 1,500 acres, and it was in desperate need of significant
investment and work. Janet tells
about how she and Christopher turned things around.
Situated in the River Coquet Valley, and nestled between the Simonside and Cheviot
Hills, the estate is picture-perfect. For three and a half miles, the river itself winds its
way through green fields and rolling hills. It is truly a beautiful piece ofland.
Purchased originally as a sporting estate, farming activity at Holystone had previously
been mainly incidental. Over the years, the estate had diminished somewhat; when
Chris and I acquired it in 2010, we set our sights on restoring it to its former glory.
Turning things around – securing investment and assessing the
Purchasing the estate, animals and equipment cost us approximately the same as
we had received from the sale of Turfland – we had very little left over for working
capital and investment. While we had some capital available from the sale of other
properties, we still needed a bank loan.
HOLYSTONE ESTATE FARM
»Directors: Janet and Chris
»Acquired in 2010
»Based near Rothbury,
»Services: Livestock farming
»No. of employees: 3
»Prior to acquiring Holystone
Estate, Janet and Chris
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
2| HOLYSTONE ESTATE FARM
We were shocked, however, when
the bank that we had dealt with for
some 45 years told us they were not
prepared to offer a loan because of
our age – we were both 70. After
applying for a loan with Svenska
Handelsbanken, however, they agreed
to invest in us and have been a source
of constant support ever since.
We soon got started. After a long,
hard look at the farm, we realised a
lot of hard work and investment was
necessary. There were only a handful
of viable fences. Six cottages and the
main farmhouse all needed extensive
repairs. The farm buildings were in a
dismal state, with no safe electrics or
adequate ventilation. The stockman
was expected to go out at night with
an old miner’s helmet to birth calves.
There were no separate calving pens
for this purpose. We had no new
or modern tractors or implements,
and animal feed was sparse. Finally,
just two people were employed to
manage the farm, and both of them
had been left virtually unsupervised for
Starting the restoration process
Animal welfare and the health and
safety of our employees has always
been a priority for both Chris and me,
and this drove all of our actions when
we set about restoring the estate.
Our first major investment was the
installation of two large cattle sheds.
These were constructed with the aid
of a much-appreciated government
grant as well as design assistance
from Edinburgh University. These now
provide not only well-lit and ventilated
housing for our animals but also a safe
place for our employees to work.
Due to the corresponding increase in our
herd size, we then set about renovating
the original buildings to house weaned
calves and excess youngstock. We also
constructed new feed sheds and a large
silage shed, renovated the lambing shed
and installed miles of new fencing.
We also repaired and decorated four
of the cottages on-site to provide
holiday accommodation; the major
farmhouse itself now serves primarily
as a luxury B&B.
Finally, we made a significant
commitment to a large woodland
project with the Environment Agency.
Nine years on, our main farming activities
now focus on sheep as well as arable
and store cattle. In the last three years,
we have invested in the introduction of
pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle and
pure-bred Cheviot sheep. Just recently,
we secured the purchase of two
magnificent Aberdeen Angus bulls – for
a combined price of£32,000.
Concerns for all farmers – not
Farming can be a difficult occupation.
The volatile weather patterns,
fluctuating stock and grain prices,
high prices of seeds, costs of fertiliser,
machinery and veterinary work as well
One of our magnificent
pedigree bull calves
For three and
a half miles,
the river itself
winds its way
3HOLYSTONE ESTATE FARM |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE
as the labour difficulty are problems
that many farmers face on a daily basis.
For many people, it’s not a particularly
desirable career – for goodreasons.
In spite of all the modern technology
and sophisticated equipment that
many farms use today, the image
of the farmer leaning on the fence,
complete with his floppy hat, wheat
straw and smock still remains. This
stereotype persists, and the occupation
has never really been promoted
appropriately – so few people realise
how vital it is that we provide the
nation’s home-grown food.
Thankfully, we count ourselves as the
lucky ones; through hard work, wise
investment and the assistance of a
good bank manager, we have had
the platform and capital available to
maintain and improve the farm. Had
this not been the case, we would never
have been able to bring Holystone
Estate into the 21st century.
It is a concern, however, that many
farmers today still find it difficult, despite
their efforts, to make a decent living.
Some are unable to achieve even that.
Farming is moving forward; more
sophisticated equipment and
technology is becoming available with
every day that passes. As we move
further into this modern age, however,
operations will need to get bigger
and more efficient to justify further
investment and the increasing cost of a
more skilled labour force.
To attract skilled labour, however,
general perception of the industry must
change. We think we are doing our
part to help this – at Holystone, we
run a modern and streamlined farm,
employing the services of local specialists
and using state-of-the-art technology
to deliver the best food wecan.
What next for Holystone?
Chris and I are now both 80 years
of age, but we are still up before six
o’clock each morning, and we still carry
out a number of practical tasks as well
as organising the day-to-day operations
on the farm. We have no intention of
allowing our lifetime’s work to be sold
off and split up when we pass away.
As such, the estate is to be held in a
trust that will be run by a board of
reliable trustees who are prepared to
oversee that our letter of wishes is
honoured. We have already allocated
funds from a large development site
we also own to ensure that Holystone
Estate will continue to improve and
expand for many years to come.
Nine years on,
sheep as well
as arable and
The River Coquet winds
through the farm