Farming & The Environment
There is no other estate in the UK that is as vulnerable to the effects of climate change and subsequent sea level rise as Holkham. The estate suffered the devastating consequences of flooding in 1953 and in 1978 and on 5th December 2013 a tidal surge saw shops and homes in Wells-next-the-Sea flooded. The sea wall was overtopped but held fast and the National Nature Reserve and Pinewoods Holiday Park were largely spared. Other parts of the coast were not as lucky but Holkham was inches away from suffering a major disaster. This vulnerability, together with a long-standing regard for the built and natural landscape means that the natural environment is at the forefront of estate thinking and planning and influences all policy and decision-making.
3,000 hectares of estate land is managed by Holkham Farming Company. This comprises 2,300 hectares of arable land the remainder is managed for game and conservation. The estate has a policy of maintaining a diverse habitat by using uncropped six metre margins between the hedge and the crop in every field that is farmed. Wherever possible, mowing is delayed until late July in order to avoid damage to ground nesting birds. Wild bird cover strips are planted across the estate to provide food, shelter and insects for birds and wildlife.
As well as the six metre margin between crop and hedge in cereal crops, in some places, a further six metre margin is planted and treated as a low input margin. This involves no use of fertilisers or agrochemicals. This results in a thinner, weedier crop that is ideal for cover for young birds and supplies a plentiful source of insects.
Hedges and hedge banks
Many hedges have now been coppiced and replanted where gaps have appeared. Cutting is limited to twice in every three years, with no cutting taking place between the end of February until the beginning of August, to allow hedges to fruit and songbirds to nest. Cutting is delayed as long as possible into the winter to leave food, such as berries, for wild birds. Roadside verges and hedges are cut more frequently for road safety.
All fertiliser is applied as liquid across the in-house farms and analysis is monitored to ensure minimal levels of heavy metals are applied. Liquid fertilisers can be applied more accurately than solids. We aim to spray in still days to avoid the risk of ‘drift’ into hedges, where high nutrients encourage hedgerow plants to grow unnaturally large. Organic manures, both imported and home produced, are used to maintain the soil organic matter content.
Integrated crop management techniques are used wherever possible to minimise pesticide use. Use of resistant varieties has resulted in no aphicides being sprayed onto wheat ears in the last five years. This allows the populations of ladybirds and lacewings to flourish which, in effect, are nature’s insecticides. When pesticides have to be used, the safest product is always selected.