Farming and Conservation
Willey Estate is committed to sustainable and regenerative farming. Whilst economic food/fuel production remains the life blood of the farm, a firm eye is kept on our carbon footprint and the natural environment – focusing on healthy soils and carbon capture, responsible use of chemicals and fertilisers, the creation and protection of habitats and the conservation of water. The in-hand farming operations are carried out by a team of five, through the Barrow Farming Partnership.
Currently there is a rotation of feed wheat, barley, oil seed rape, beans and oats. Miscanthus is being grown for biomass; 50 acres of cider apples are grown in the orchards at Atterley and seed potatoes are grown on contract.
The farm uses minimum tillage methods of cultivation (disturbing the soil and its structure as little as possible). Since the 1990’s it has embraced environmental schemes to encourage birds and wildlife. Some 98km of hedges have been managed for landscape and wildlife, ponds, wetlands and scrapes have been created, and over 70 acres taken out of arable production as wildlife field margins. A further 100 acres is left either un-cropped for ground nesting birds, or planted with wild bird seed mix. The farm team are also mindful of the need to protect in field and hedgerow trees, and trees are preserved and planted at every opportunity.
Sadly, following an outbreak of TB in the pedigree beef herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle and the Charolais/Limousin suckler herd, a decision was taken not to continue rearing cattle on the farm. The grass keep is now largely let for sheep grazing.
Willey continues to be home to a number of farm tenants, with a variety of arable, livestock, mixed and dairy farmers.
Natural Capital Audit
The Estate has recently commissioned an audit of its natural capital (resources such as trees, plants, hedges, animals, soils, minerals, air and water). This detailed record of all its natural assets and wildlife habitats will form a baseline and enable it to grow and develop long term strategies to build soil fertility, encourage rich biodiversity, and to improve and enhance its custodianship of the land.
There are already a number of designated wildlife sites on the Estate. They are defined areas, identified and selected for their substantive nature conservation value, based on important, distinctive and threatened habitats and species. The Estate works in partnership with the Shropshire Wildlife trust and others to survey and document flora and fauna in various areas of the Estate and are always interested in volunteers who would like to help with this work.
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”
Very aware of the extreme importance of this valuable commodity, the Estate practices good water conservation with 6m margins along watercourses to reduce soil run off and to filter and clean river water. The farm team have created many new ponds and scrapes for wildlife and the Estate supplies spring fed water to over half of the tenants on the Estate, ensuring it is stored safely and correctly, treated as and when necessary, and delivered to the end user fit for human consumption.
The Estate has set up a separate company WEEL (Willey Estates Energy Ltd.) to dedicate time and resources to renewable and sustainable energy and the drive to reduce its carbon footprint. It is committed to supporting the move away from fossil fuels and in particular oil by 2025.
To date, it has roof-mounted PV solar panels on three separate buildings and several residential properties. There are two separate district heating systems fuelled by Estate logs and woodchip which serve eleven and four properties respectively.
Residential properties benefit from two ground source heat pumps, three air source heat pumps and a growing number of electric high heat retention storage and computer controlled infra red heating systems.
The Estate is signed up to the Zero Carbon Shropshire Pledge and actively involved with the working group on buildings and in conducting monitored trials on different forms of heating.
A key element of any renewable heating initiative is the fabric of the building. To this end, the Estate has a programme of retrofit insulation work to roofs, walls and floors wherever possible.
The Forester family were originally wardens of the Kings forests in the Wellington Haye, and the forestership was a royal appointment. The hunting horn which is incorporated in the family’s coat of arms, is used as the Estate logo, and goes back to these medieval origins.
There are approximately 1,500 acres of woodland on the Estate, a mixture of ancient natural woodland, conifer stands and mixed broadleaves.
There is an active management process to ensure that the woods are managed sympathetically and sustainably, ensuring environmental diversity. The aim is to provide multi generational woodland with a blend of young and mature trees which leads to continuous canopy cover. By including different species the chance for disease is reduced, and by retaining a proportion of standing and fallen deadwood important wildlife habitats are retained.
A permanent team of 4 carry out most of the maintenance operations from ditching (to ensure adequate drainage for tree roots and therefore stability for the growing trees) to planting, brashing and high pruning (ensuring quality of end product) and thinning (to provide light for other trees and seedlings to grow on to form future crops). Carefully chosen contractors assist with the 10 year rolling thinning programme and others with pest and disease management.
The forestry team also look after several miles of roadside trees. The roads are surveyed every 5 years, and checked after storms and heavy winds, with a programme of maintenance provided. Now, with ash dieback taking a hold in the area, ash trees are checked along the roads on an annual basis.
The late Lord Forester planted cricket bat willows in a number of areas alongside ditches and running water. These are now reaching maturity and more are being planted in their place. The current Lord Forester has planted several stands of Christmas trees including Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir and Nordman Fir which are available to order.
The Willey Estates Parkland Management Plan was formulated in 2013. Since then well over 100 trees have been planted in tree guards in the park, to enhance the landscape and give historic continuity to the original planting. The oldest native trees are around 500 years old and the older, non-native trees were planted in the early 1800’s around the time of the completion of the new Hall.
The woodlands provide woodchip and logs to feed the biomass boilers on the Estate and logs are also supplied to order throughout the year. Every effort is made to ensure that the fuel is free from contaminants and will always be produced to the correct moisture levels, so that the wood damage neither the environment, (nor your stove or boiler!). The logs are traceable, naturally air-dried to below 25% moisture content and produced to Woodsure standard
The Willey Estate offers a range of local hard and softwood, readily available in standard size or can be cut to measure. Dry Stored. Available all year round.
FREE local delivery within a 5 mile radius. 40p per mile thereafter