Country houses for sale

Income for rural estates

Pre-decimalisation, the economics of shooting a sporting bird were expressed as ‘up goes 10 shillings, bang goes sixpence, and down comes half-a-crown’; today’s equivalent should probably read ‘up goes £30, bang goes £1, and down comes 50p’. The figures don’t add up, but the syndicates of the big City bonus-earners who pay up to £20,000 a day to patronise the top commercial shoots in the West Country or the Yorkshire Dales couldn’t care less. Further down the sporting food chain, few estate owners or farmers would expect to make a living from shooting alone, but many have discovered that creating and running a successful shoot, even on a small scale, not only provides a precious income stream at critical times of the year, but increases the value of their property when they come to sell.

Savills’ latest Rural Research Bulletin, which analyses the business of 175 rural estates across the UK, shows a small but significant increase in the proportion of estate income arising from leisure and sporting activity in the past five years. But now that possibilities to boost estate income by exploiting property assets have been virtually exhausted, Savills suggest that the best chance of future growth lies ‘in increasing leisure and sporting activity’.

Certainly, demand is not an issue. Mark Merison of Strutt & Parker recently advertised the sporting rights of an estate to let and received 40 applications within days; those of a second estate were sold shortly afterwards to one of the remaining applicants. On the other hand, fewer sporting estates than ever have come to market this year. Of those that have, two well-known estates in the south of England were sold privately in recent weeks, leaving the prestigious Bowcombe estate at Newport, Isle of Wight, the only serious contender currently for sale south of Watford.

Historically ranked among the South’s top 10 shooting estates, the scenic 1,227-acre estate for sale through Strutt & Parker (01722 344010) at a guide price of ‘excess £5 million’ is renowned for its challenging high-flying birds; it hosts some 26 shooting days a year, with 21 famous drives producing an average daily bag of 245 partridge and pheasant.

For any landowner thinking of getting in on the act, topography is the key to sporting success, says Mr Merison, adding, ‘you can’t deliver a shoot on a billiard table’ although canny East Anglian farmers who offer informal morning and evening duck-shoots at £500 a throw might argue with that opinion.

The steep-sided wooded valleys of the West Country produce some of the best shooting in the country, and the sport has provided a lifeline for hard-pressed hill-farmers and landowners in recent years. Local agents Greenslade Taylor Hunt (01823 334466) recently agreed a sale on picturesque Withycombe Farm at Winsford near Minehead, Somerset, for around the £2.25m guide price. Seven or eight years ago, the owner of the 354-acre traditional sheep farm took advantage of the land’s topo-graphy to establish a thriving small shoot offering 25 or more 150-bird days a season, which proved to be a crucial factor in its eventual sale.

The sale of lofty Bremridge Farm in glorious countryside on the eastern edge of Exmoor through Humberts (01823 331234) at a guide price of £1.85m offers another chance to develop an exciting small shoot, with several major syndicated shoots nearby. With two houses, beautifully landscaped gardens, 185 acres of ring-fenced pasture and woodland, plus a landing strip and helipad, Bremridge is the ideal setting for a modern mini-shooting party.

But it’s not all about ‘the big guns’, Kyle Blue of Cumbrian agents Penrith Farmers’ & Kidds (01768 862135) insists, citing the entertainment derived from a 13-acre shoot as described by Archie Coats in his classic Amateur Keeper, where much of the day is given over to eating and drinking. ‘Here in Cumbria, there is now a greater emphasis on the fun and social side of shooting, with smaller family shoots becoming ever more popular,’ says Mr Blue, for whom the sale of Greenfoot at Sebergham, near Caldbeck, in the beautiful Caldew Valley, represents a rare sporting opportunity.

The charming Grade II-listed, 17th-/18th-century, four-bedroom farmhouse with grounds and outbuildings is on offer at £750,000, with the option to purchase an adjoining 45 acres of wooded parkland, with half a mile of single-bank fishing, for a further £200,000.