Country houses for sale

Sporting estates on the up

We all know what the capital value of prime central London property has done in the past 10 years: with the exception of an awkward few months following the credit crunch, prices have skyrocketed. Equally, the value of farmland has experienced astonishing growth: according to the Savills Agricultural Land Market Survey published earlier this year, average farmland values during 2013 strengthened by more than 12% to £8,500 per acre, with a 10-year cumulative average growth of 273%. But when it comes to sporting estates, how have values performed?

Andrew Shirley of Knight Frank Rural Research (01234 720534) has been crunching figures for the new index looking at four iconic assets: salmon rivers, trout chalkstreams, grouse moors and Scottish red-deer stalking estates. The index hasn’t included pheasant and partridge shoots because their value is determined by many factors aside from their sporting potential.

He’s found that the average value of these four assets has increased by 32%, with grouse moors showing the greatest rise (49%). Not huge numbers, but it’s important to remember that these aren’t commercial investments, but luxury assets, explains Mr Shirley.

‘This is actually evidence of a very robust market,’ says Clive Hopkins, who heads up Knight Frank’s Farms & Estates department (020–7861 1064).

‘We had a ripper of a recession, which tore the heart out of the market in 2008 and 2009. The first thing that suffers during an economic crisis is this kind of very expensive and very discretionary purchase. The fact that growth is positive at all shows how resilient an asset a specialist sporting estate really is.’

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The other thing to remember, believes Mr Shirley, is that ‘a good grouse moor or a beat on one of the best rivers wasn’t cheap 10 years ago. When farmland was valued at £2,500 an acre, it was just classed as a standard asset, but grouse moors have always been in the category of a rich man’s toy.’

The 28,300- acre Auch & Invermearan estate in Argyllshire and Perthshire (above) sold for more than its £11 million asking price last month

Who are the buyers?

‘Like all these things, there’s definitely an appetite for the best-in-class estates, but you’ve got to demonstrate that it’s quite special to catch a buyer,’ believes Jonathan Bramwell of The Buying Solution (01608  690 780). ‘The biggest issue for some purchasers these days is the house.

They can see the benefits of buying land in terms of tax planning and, if there are cottages bringing in some income, all the better, but people are wary of running costs and not everyone wants to commit to a house of 15,000sq ft or more.’

An added complication is that it’s almost impossible to generalise about this market because estates that ‘tick all the boxes’ come up perhaps once every 10 years in the Cotswolds and only every 3–5 years in other prime areas, such as Hampshire and west Berkshire.

North of the border, the market for estates has suffered due to the impending referendum, but it’s not completely dormant. Last month, the 28,300-acre Auch & Invermearan estate in Argyllshire and Perthshire sold for more than its £11 million asking price through Knight Frank.

Edinburgh-based partner Ran Morgan (0131–222 9600) says it’s the second estate that they’ve completed in the past 18 months for more than £10 million, but, in both cases, the primary reason for purchase hasn’t been the stalking or salmon fishing. ‘Despite all the hype over independence, there is a real appetite for Scottish land holdings from investors, especially overseas.

They are particularly interested in estates that can produce significant income in the form of renewable energy,’ he explains.

The best places to fish, stalk and shoot in Britain

Gold medal
Double-bank beats on the Test or Itchen
The Spey, Dee, Tweed or Tay
The moors of the north Pennines
West-coast estates with views

Silver Medal
Kennet, Lambourn or Avon
Helmsdale, Findhorn or Oykel
North Yorkshire or central Highlands
Perthshire, Inverness-shire or Deeside

NB Pheasant and partridge shoots excluded because of differing valuation parameters