What is the Future For Historic Farms?

Like an early autumn mist, a deep sadness hangs over the historic Evistones estate at Rochester, in the heart of Redesdale, North Northumberland, as Britain?s biggest experimental hill farm winds down its operations, in advance of total closure early next year. Since 1967, most of the estate?s 2,447 acres of land have been let to MAFF/Defra as a livestock research farm run by ADAS Consulting. But in March of this year, the estate?s owners, staff and managers were shocked when ADAS gave notice of its intention to quit, citing ?lack of Government support for experimental husbandry? as the reason for its decision.

?It came as a big shock to all of us four families live on the estate, which is highly labour-intensive by modern standards, employing some 20 people in all and the effect on the local area will be huge,? says land agent Claire Mal- len of Strutt & Parker, who has managed the estate on behalf of its owner, Dr Anthony James, for the past four years. Strutt & Parker (01670 516123) quote a guide price of £3.75 million for the majestic Borders estate, the focal point of which is the seven-bedroom Victorian sporting lodge built by Sir Walter James in 1860, and completely refurbished in the past two years.

The renowned hill-farming unit has two modern farmsteads, with a three bedroom farmhouse, a quaint Victorian keeper?s cottage, and a pair of modernised farm cottages. The present farming system revolves around a flock of 1,365 Scottish Blackface and Swaledale ewes, but the enormous sporting potential of the estate?s 1,943 acres of hill and upland grazing will not have been lost on potential purchasers.

Down on Dartmoor, the ancient farmstead at Headland Warren Farm, Postbridge, near Yelverton, Devon, centres on a Grade II-listed 14th-century longhouse, set amid the 593 acres of Headland Warren Common a stretch of high moorland below Hockney Tor and Grimspound. Four thousand years of history have left their mark here, where the land is strewn with Stone and Bronze Age mounds, cairns, hut circles and the remains of ancient settlements, as well as some of the most spectacular mine-workings on Dartmoor. From medieval times, rabbits bred at Headland Warren were used to feed the local miners and the occupants of at least two farmsteads. ?This is a wonderful place, but it?s no rose-tinted idyll,? says Diana Wynne, who has run Head-land Warren as a working farm and holiday complex since 1994, under lease from the Duchy of Cornwall.

?With frequent heavy weather, the trials of difficult lambing seasons, the devastating effect of low prices at market, rising prices for feed, and bumbling and procrastinating bureaucracy, this is often a harsh world,? she adds. All of which has no doubt contributed to Miss Wynne?s decision to retire and offer the remaining 27-year lease of Headland Warren Farm, with its four-bedroom farmhouse, converted barn, cottage and stables, for sale through Savills (01392 253344) at a guide price of £300,000.

The shape of things to come at Alderley Farm, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, has been outlined in impressive style by its present owner, who bought the 365-acre former working dairy farm some five years ago, and has since transformed it into a classic small Cotswold sporting and conservation estate.

The old dairy complex has been converted to an immaculate six-bedroom main house with cottages, staff quarters, offices, stabling and outbuildings laid out in the style of an 18th-century courtyard. There is planning consent to make the main house even grander by adding a three-storey ?Queen Anne wing? with three further large reception rooms on the ground floor, and additional sleeping accommodation on the first and second floors.

But what makes Alderley Farm so unique, says Clive Hopkins of Knight Frank, is its setting in its own secluded valley on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment, five miles from Badminton. The estate includes virtually everything that can be seen from the house, with 80 acres of woodland offering great sporting potential, and the rest permanent pasture which provides a parkland setting for the house and gardens. Joint selling agents CKD Kennedy Macpherson (020?7409 1944) and Knight Frank (020?7629 8171) quote a guide price of £7m to £8m.