The Farming Social Hub - a voice for the farming community

Holkham stays ahead of the curve

The Holkham Estate and Hall has to be one of the most recognised and loved visitor attractions in Norfolk. The stately home, which was built in the 18th century by the architect William Kent, has been home to the Earl of Leicester ever since. Currently Thomas Coke, the 8th Earl of Leicester, lives at the Hall and, following on from the work started by his father, has been responsible for overseeing the transformation of the Holkham Estate into a thriving business comprising a number of enterprises.

Throughout agricultural history, Holkham Hall has always played a central role. The first Earl of Leicester was renowned for his revolutionary farming practices. Selective breeding of livestock and the introduction of root crops into the field rotation were just two measures that changed agriculture forever – way back in the 18th century. As we move forwards in the 21st century, Holkham continues to forge ahead with ideas that will change the way agriculture works in the UK.

The estate has more than 25,000 acres of agricultural land, some parts of the estate are rented out to tenant farmers, but much of the land is farmed by the team at Holkham, led by Farm Manager James Beamish.

In an interview with the Farming Social Hub podcast, which airs on KL1 Radio station, Lord Coke, the 8th Earl of Leicester explained how he was aiming to make the farm as sustainable as possible and to create a blueprint for farming that blended agricultural practices with conservation.

Among the many ways the Holkham Estate seeks to do this are: using renewable energy wherever possible, soil regeneration, balancing livestock with arable, and putting unprofitable agricultural land over to conservation.

Here are just two simple examples, illustrating how Lord Coke’s ambitions are being met with practical solutions. The first involves the iconic Belted Galloway cattle that can be seen grazing on the marshlands. These beautiful native species – they are black with a distinctive white ring around their middles – graze the marshes to clear the way for the over-wintering birds that arrive in October. The cattle eat the roughage, which allows the geese and other waders to get access to the nutritious plants and grubs they need to make it through the winter.

The cattle themselves also provide the beef that appears on the menu at the Victoria at Holkham, with no food miles involved in the process.

The second example is the principle of rectangular fields. In the past, farmers have been driven to plough and cultivate every inch of arable land. This often meant that tricky corner areas of land or a patch of land that is prone to flooding still got cultivated but were quite unproductive. In a simple change of policy, all the fields on the Estate are now drilled in rectangles o squares and the odd-shaped or unproductive land is left to nature. This creates wildflower areas and nature corridors, so animals and birds can move safely from one area to another.

The Cokes are also passionate about renewable energy and have installed three bio-mass boilers which use wood chip from the estates wood as well as a ground source heat pump. This, along with a large photovoltaic solar field, provides energy for the farm offices and many properties across the estate.

All of this, and many more fascinating bits of information can be discovered simply by visiting Holkham for yourself. There is a museum of farm life, tours around the 25,000 acre estate and many events that are open to members of the public.

As with every other business, the pandemic has caused disruption to the normal events an activities, but check out the website and discover more about progressive farming at Holkham.