According to the latest forecast from Savills Rural Research, the price of UK farmland is set to enjoy a 10th successive year of annual growth in 2012, although the 3.9% price increase posted in the first six months of this year suggests that the average annual growth of 5% achieved in previous years is unlikely to be repeated.
Despite a 14% drop in the supply of English farmland offered on the open market, the highest prices were achieved in the arable sector across the eastern counties, a market driven by private investors and commercial farmers. Here, large blocks of top-quality bare land can change hands at £9,000 to £10,000 an acre. In the west of England, however, the predominance of less profitable livestock farms with smaller acreages and a significant residential element means that land prices of about £5,000 an acre are more the norm.
Ian Hepburn, of Hampshire-based buying agents Private Property Search (01256 242938), expects the extraordinary recent performance of the UK arable-land market to continue in spite of this year’s abnormal rainfall, given that the UK continues to be one of the best countries in the northern hemisphere for arable cropping. Buyers of residential farms are also still active, he says, especially if there is sufficient acreage (500 acres or more) for the land to be farmed commercially.
With net income from arable farming currently running at 2% to 3% per annum, plus capital growth, and substantial tax benefits (including the opportunity to offset farming expenditure against other forms of income), such buyers see the combination of a rural lifestyle with active farming operations as the best of all worlds in uncertain times. But such farms, it must be said, are few and far between.
The market for 200-acre to 300-acre farms with large houses is more problematic, Mr Hepburn says, although there are still hobby farmers around who will pay a premium for a picturesque farm in the south or west of England, provided it has a good, but not over-large, farmhouse, enough land or woodland to support a family shoot and guarantee privacy and protection, and effective transport links with London.
One farm that offers all this and more is 388-acre Rye Hill Farm near Longbridge Deverill, in the lovely Upper Wylye Valley, Wiltshire, 23 miles west of Salisbury, which was launched in last week’s Country Life at a guide price of £5.6 million for the whole, through Carter Jonas (01225 747270) and Strutt & Parker (01722 328739). ‘Rye Hill Farm has something for everyone-a wonderful location at the foot of the Wiltshire Downs, a good house set in the middle of its land and lots of income-producing aspects,’ enthuses Robin Gould of Strutt & Parker in Salisbury, for whom the farms market remains ‘evergreen’, both from a commercial and a lifestyle point of view.
Protected on one side by the Duke of Somerset’s Maiden Bradley estate and the National Trust’s Stourhead on the other, Rye Hill Farm was part of an estate owned by the 15th Duke of Somerset, before being sold to John Wilmot Pope in the 1920s, and then, in the 1930s, to the present vendor’s family. The main six-bedroom period farmhouse stands at the end of a long drive, with spectacular views from almost every window, especially those of the principal first-floor bedrooms. Built of traditional brick under a tiled roof, its current configuration includes a self-contained granny flat that could easily be reincorporated into the main house.
The land, 370 acres of which is farmed in conjunction with a neighbouring farmer, is classified Grade 2/3 and currently divided into three equal-sized blocks for ease of cropping and rotation. It also forms part of the prestigious Brixton shoot, which uses a converted former granary as its office a relationship that offers a new owner the chance to be part of one of the finest shoots in the south of England.
Other converted buildings include a large traditional barn, used in recent years as a successful wedding venue. The final wedding is scheduled for October 6, 2012, although the business could be continued by the new owner should they wish to do so. Other former farm buildings have been let for commercial use, and the sale includes a pair of semi-detached cottages and a farm bungalow.
Strutt & Parker have also been handling the sale of Grange Farm at Kilmington, to the west of Maiden Bradley village, Wiltshire-a 240-acre equestrian and residential farm with a Grade II-listed Georgian farmhouse, a cottage, a bungalow, traditional and modern farm buildings and stabling and training facilities. The bulk of the land has now been bought by a neighbouring farmer, leaving the pretty main house, the cottages, stabling, buildings and 43 acres of gardens and paddocks, on offer at £3.4m.
The house has been recently restored to provide accommodation on three floors, including four/five reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, eight bedrooms and six bathrooms. Anyone who describes Bagnell Farm at Norton-sub-Hamdon, on the Somerset/Dorset border, as a ‘hobby farm’ would definitely be out of order as far as the owners of the model 174-acre organic holding are concerned, says selling agent David Cross of Savills.
Home since 2003 to a renowned herd of Red Ruby Devon cattle and pedigree Jacob sheep, and successfully farmed in-hand with the help of a full-time farm manager, idyllic Bagnell Farm is for sale through Savills (01722 426810) and Symonds and Sampson (01305 756972), at a guide price of £3.25m for the whole, or in four lots.
Set in a tumbling valley below Ham Hill, 61⁄2 miles from Crew-kerne and 16 miles from Sherborne, the farm comprises a charming, Grade II-listed, seven-bedroom house, refurbished throughout in 2005. The house stands at the end of a long, beech-lined drive, beside a secluded garden courtyard with an alfresco dining area, a traditional stone barn, a two-bedroom cottage and an office. The animals are housed in a range of modern farm buildings to the west of the house. The upper reaches of the land, all grass and woodland, offer enchanting views of the lush Somerset countryside, with a stream and a series of ponds at the bottom of the valley creating a rich habitat for local wildlife.
If easy access to London and some of the country’s best schools is a priority, then the sale of The Folly at Inkpen, near Hungerford, Berkshire, offers a rare opportunity to acquire a unique, 229-acre woodland estate, with a pretty, six-bedroom, thatched main house in the dreamiest of settings, and with excellent shooting, fishing, walking and riding all readily to hand. Knight Frank (020-7629 8171) quote a guide price of £3.7m for the 229-acre estate as a whole, or £1.95m for the main house, a coach house with a two-bedroom flat, stabling, and 5.7 acres of formal gardens and paddock.
The woodland is offered in three blocks: Home Woodland, with 13 acres of mature woodland, at £150,000; Warren and Folly Woodland, comprising 125 acres of magical woodland, a network of rides, a series of lakes and some 30 acres of grassland, at £1.1m; and Catmore Copse and Winterly Copse, a further 62 acres of mixed mature woodland to the north-east of the estate, which has separate vehicle access and is an integral part of the family shoot, with two pheasant pens and some beautiful rides and woodland walks, at £500,000. Winterly Copse, to the east of the central main ride, is an area of ancient, semi-natural oak woodland, designated an SSSI.
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