Farming today is a serious and complex industry-no place for an amateur, you might think. Yet, according to Mark Lawson of purchasing agents The Buying Solution, the market for working farms and estates outside the Home Counties is largely driven by UK-based buyers with inherited wealth, or by prosperous City buyers who want a large country home.
‘They want the rural dream, but without the rural hassle, and most are happy to be hobby farmers, perhaps sitting on a tractor at the weekend to disengage their brains from work. For them, the most important thing is that the land yields good returns, and most employ farm-contractors because they have no interest in running a farming business themselves,’ Mr Lawson explains.
It’s a system that works surprisingly well, judging by the track record of four quite different farm enterprises that have recently come to the market. Indeed, the vendor of the 1,962-acre Brauncewell estate, six miles from Sleaford, Lincolnshire-the highest-priced farming estate to hit the market this year, at a guide price of £13 million through Savills (020-7409 5916) is himself a farmer, yet decided to use a good local contractor, rather than invest in all the heavy kit needed to farm a diverse commercial operation of this size. The pasture land is let on an annual grazing licence. Brauncewell has four farmsteads, each equipped with modern farm buildings and designed to deal with flexible cropping thanks to an extensive irrigation system.
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The owner has concentrated his efforts on improving the estate’s considerable property and sporting assets, which generate a total non-farming income of £48,140 a year. Property-wise, they include a charming four-bedroom manor house, a classic five-bedroom Georgian farmhouse, three
cottages and traditional farm buildings with planning consent for conversion to four substantial houses and, on the sporting side, a locally renowned wild- pheasant and partridge shoot.
By comparison with some more remote Lincolnshire farms that can appear bleak and forbidding, Brauncewell is a pretty estate with undulating terrain and traditional buildings, and has easy access to London, via Grantham. Set in 26 acres of landscaped gardens, paddocks and woodland near the site of an early medieval village and the Grade II-listed former Brauncewell parish church (now owned by the estate), Braunce-well Manor, also listed Grade II, has been stylishly upgraded to provide three main reception rooms, a family kitchen/breakfast room, four bedrooms and three bath/shower rooms. A further three attic rooms could be incorporated by reinstating the second-
floor staircase. The estate is for sale as a whole or in six lots.
Claire Glover of Knight Frank’s country department (020-7629 8171) notes the tax advantages of a contract-farming arrangement which, in addition to 100% Inheritance Tax relief, currently enjoys a more favourable Income Tax regime than a farm-business tenancy. She quotes a guide price of £4.5m for pristine St John’s Farm at Abridge, Essex, whose location amid rolling farmland and woodland, just 14 miles from the City of London, is still amazingly peaceful and private.
At the heart of the 230-acre estate is the immaculate, 5,836sq ft main farmhouse, built in traditional Essex weather-board under a peg-tile roof, the oldest part of which has original 17th-century features such as an inglenook fireplace and timber beams. The interior has been beautifully modernised and includes a large reception hall, two main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, five bedrooms, three bath/shower rooms and a luxurious indoor swimming pool. Outbuildings include a granary, a cart lodge, former stables and various barns, plus a 1960s bungalow and a pretty, three-bedroom, 1980s cottage.
The land has been managed with conservation and amenity in mind, and in addition to three blocks of mature broadleaved woodland, enough trees have been planted over the years to create seven drives, the basis of an enjoyable family shoot. St John’s Farm is for sale as a whole, or in two lots.
In total contrast, 370-acre Biddenfield Farm at Shedfield, near Bishops Waltham, south Hampshire, is the ‘perfect pocket estate’ waiting to happen.
Owned by a British businessman who lives overseas, this idyllic corner of Hampshire is ‘heaving with interesting projects’, says selling agent David Pardoe of Savills (01962 834058), who quotes a guide price of £3.65m. At its heart is a charming, five-bedroom, unlisted farmhouse in need of total restoration, standing next to a courtyard of Victorian farm buildings with obvious planning potential. Consent already exists to improve and extend a three-bedroom cottage, and to convert a traditional wooden barn into a delightful three-bedroom house overlooking pasture and ponds.
The farm also has a livery yard, and various paddocks. Biddenfield’s 85 acres of arable land are contract-farmed, and the grazing let to a local farmer. Some 200 acres of woodland are managed for shooting and conservation, although timber has been sold commercially in the past. Another landmark is two dams set at right-angles to each other, one of which was blown up by the Allies in the Second World War to prevent German bombers using the structures to line up their sights before bombing Portsmouth. Nowadays, the lake created by the surviving dam is used for duck-flighting. Biddenfield is for sale as a whole or in eight lots.
Down in deepest Dorset, dreamy 410-acre Watercombe Farm at Watercombe, near Dorchester, is for sale for the first time since 1918, at a guide price of £4m through Palmer Snell (01935 814531). Once part of the Warmwell estate, it comprises an excellent arable and stock farm, currently farmed under a 10-year Farm Business Tenancy (expiring September 2011) at an annual rent of £38,000, along with a seven-bedroom, 18th-century farmhouse, listed Grade II, a secondary farmhouse and two cottages.
According to local records, Watercombe Farm was owned by a Thomas Homer Saunders, who, in the mid 1850s, won prizes for the ‘best cultivated farm’, ‘the best 100 ewes of any breed’ and the ‘best general root crop’. In the days of smuggling, contraband is said to have been taken overland from nearby Ringstead Bay to Moigns Down in the heart of the estate, before being carried inland on horseback. ‘It is rare indeed for a farm of this size, so close to the Jurassic coast, to come to the open market,’ says George Gray of Palmer Snell, who will offer Watercombe Farm, as a whole or in six lots, for sale by auction on Thursday, June 10, unless it’s sold privately beforehand.