South Elmham Hall: Farming & Conservation
Today South Elmham Hall is at the centre of a traditional mixed farm, which has won awards for conservation and wildlife management including the Suffolk FWAG Farm Conservation Cup.
Today at South Elmham Hall Farms, we farm 450 acres of mixed arable organic and conventionally grow crops. These include wheat, barley, beans, oil seed rape, sugar beet and clover leys for silage. The whole farm has been in Countryside Stewardship for over 20 years, with support from this scheme we have been able to formalise public access, plant new woodlands, coppice and plant new hedges, restore ponds and plant areas specifically for pollinating insects and winter bird food.
All our livestock are managed organically. Most of our cows are Simmentals, a continental beef breed. We have a few white cows with black noses and ears - these are British Whites, a very old native breed formerly a favourite with religious orders. The odd coloured ones are crosses between the two, or Aberdeen Angus crosses. All are kept as sucklers, which means calves are reared by their mother until naturally weaned.
We are working farm and kindly request that ramblers and visitors to the Minster do not approach or disturb the livestock.
Over the years at South Elmham Hall Farms, we are proud to have been a part of award-winning conservation and wildlife management projects. From the highly successful Suffolk Barn Owl Project to our current activities with Natural England and the RSPB to safeguard a future for rare Turtle Doves, we are highly proactive in our approach to wildlife conservation.
Rewarding biodiversity & sharing our experiences in the process
This year we have been involved in a new pilot scheme funded by the EU and run by Natural England which is being trialled in a small area of north Suffolk and south Norfolk.
This results-based agri-environment scheme is the first time that the value of conservation measures has been actually quantified and rewarded accordingly. It is the only arable pilot of Results-based Payments for Biodiversity Achievements in Agriculture (RPAPS) and is unique across Europe.
In March 2017, we were lucky enough to be invited to go to Brussels to share our experiences thus far and John addressed a conference packed full of ecologists, advisers, conservationists and EU officials from across the continent, as well as being live-streamed on the internet. A scary, but wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded people and share best practices.
In winter 2018 we were invited to speak at a Regional Conference in Suffolk, to share our impressions and findings of the agri-environmental scheme pilot.
Read reports about John Sanderson's conference contribution here »
Wildlife on the farm
Many species are present on the farm all year. Barn Owls are most visible in spring when they will hunt longer hours as they have chicks to feed. Look out for them over the rough areas of long grass and sitting on fence post. Hares are also easy to see all year, but especially in early spring when they chose big open fields to do their annual boxing.
There are resident native roe deer, together with muntjac and Chinese water deer which originally escaped from wildlife parks and have now spread widely. We also have a resident weasel family who live in an ancient hollow tree stump on the edge of the Minster.
In winter the hedges are full of mixed flocks of finches including the big red breasted Bullfinch, and as well as resident kestrels and sparrow hawks, the farm is frequently visited by Buzzards.
At South Elmham Hall Farm, we are working the RSPB on 'Operation Turtle Dove' to safeguard a future for rare Turtle Doves. This involves growing a plot of seed bearing plants that are available to the birds when they arrive from their long migration from Africa in May/early June.
We are also conducting feeding trials designed and supervised by the RSPB to understand what we can do to halt the steep decline in population of this bird.
Over the past few years we have increasingly seen Red Kites. These birds were reintroduced into the Chilterns and have been spreading ever since. There are some that are fearful of birds of prey and other predators in the countryside. We take the view that it is a sign of a healthy ecosystem: they will indeed prey on other birds (and yes some of the prey may be rare,) but if there is insufficient prey, they will move on. The presence of Red Kites at South Elmham tells us that there is a good population of wildlife per se. Besides, Kites and Buzzards largely prey on carrion.
Our foxes however have an extremely varied diet including anything from worms to berries from the hedgerow. Occasionally they may steal one of our free range hens or even a goose, but you have to admire their cunning, we always make sure our domestic fowl are shut up at night so as not to offer too much temptation!
Sometimes there are new developments without our intervention, badgers have arrived on the farm over the last couple of years. This might be greeted with dread in some parts of the country on a livestock farm, badgers have been associated with the spread of bovine tuberculosis. However, we are very lucky, in East Anglia disease levels are very low, and cattle are not widespread, and thus the risk is also very low.
South Elmham Hall Farms through the seasons
Every year is different at South Elmham thanks to the turn of the seasons. Our farming and conservation life dovetail with our other diversification ventures such as our wedding and events venue, our converted medieval barn and covered courtyard - Bateman’s Barn South Elmham.
Fancy a bit more insight? Read more about South Elmham Hall Farms through the seasons »