Chaldean Estate is an 1,155 hectare arable farm in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. As well as growing sugar beet, wheat, rapeseed and field beans, the Estate manages some 120 hectares of woodland, much of which benefits from public access and some of which has been categorised as ‘ancient’. Two new areas of woodland comprising some 33 hectares were planted in Autumn 2012 and have been designated Diamond Woods, as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration.
The Farm is managed within a consortium called Gilston Crop Management LLP which comprises the Chaldean Estate and two local farms.
We are fully committed to operating in harmony with nature and are full participants in English Nature’s ‘Countryside Stewardship Scheme’ a scheme aimed at protecting and enhancing wildlife whilst producing crops for food.
Chaldean Estate, via Gilston Crop Management LLP ensures the highest standard of food production alongside taking full consideration of its responsibilities towards the environment.
Energy Usage: As users of energy, consideration is given at all times to minimising usage through procurement of fuel efficient machinery, minimisation of field passes and the use of alternative energy production.
Waste Management: Consideration is always given to reducing and disposal of waste in an environmentally responsible manner.
Risk Management: Managing Environmental risk is achieved through using best practice and training.
Conservation: Gilston Crop Management recognises its responsibilities for enhancing biodiversity and wildlife habitats and considers, at all times, the integration of environmental initiatives into its farming activities. Legislative and recommended guidelines are heeded where possible.
In Spring 2010 the Estate installed a biomass boiler which provides heat and hot water to the principal farm house, Estate Office and several other buildings on the Estate. It is powered by woodchip sourced from the Estate’s woodlands and means that oil-fired boilers that had previously been needed are no longer required.
The Estate fields, hedgerows and woodlands provide a refuge and food for a range of wildlife including deer, brown hare, badgers and numerous bird species. An RSPB survey was carried out during 2011 for Barwick and Arches Hall Farms. This found that several birds commonly seen on the Estate are those categorised Red or Amber in terms of conservation importance by the RSPB.
The Estate manages over 120 hectares of woodland, much of which benefits from public access and some of which has been categorised as ‘ancient’. Within over 25 seperate woodlands a wide range of species thrive including Oak, Ash, Elm, Hornbeam, Sycamore and Western Red Cedars, as well as wildlife friendly scrub. The woods are managed in accordance with Forestry Commission agreed management plans that enable rotational coppicing and felling of small blocks for the purpose of providing wood for the Estate’s bio mass boilers. Two new areas of woodland comprising some 33 hectares were planted in 2012 on sites at Latchford and Cold Christmas. These were awarded Diamond Jubilee Wood status by the Woodland Trust as part of the UK’s celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The time for drilling spring crops – our spring wheat and spring oilseed rape – and applying fertiliser to help promote healthy growth. Minimal herbicide, funcidide and insecticide sprays are applied to protect the crops and bird scaring ‘ guns’ are put in place to try to keep pigeon damage as low as possible.
The season sees the combine harvesters running methodoically up and down the row of crop. These are high-tech machines that carry computer programmes of our field boundaries and crop layouts to ensure harvesting is carried out as efficiently as possible – important given the high cost of fuel. The produce – which will typically have been sold several months before – is taken to the various storage sheds for drying and conditioning.
The land is cultivated during this season, and drilling of the Estate’s main crops – cereals and oilseeds. Fertilisers are applied to boost growth. Grain and seed in our stores gradually leaves the farm, being collected by purchasers and contractors.
Again the land is cultivated in readiness for spring planting. The Estate’s hedges are cut and the Estate’s hands are busy clearing ditches, checking field drainage and maintaining all farm equipment.
In April 2019, Chaldean planted 18,500 vines for grapes on approximately 10 acres of land at Barley Hills, to the north of the Estate. This has broadened the range of crops grown which includes wheat, oilseed rape and sugar beet.
In researching the project, we discovered that, apart from those planted on the wrong sites and with the wrong varieties, many vineyards failed because they found it difficult to produce enough yield to make the enterprise sustainable and/or failed to sell the wines they produced at anything like the price required to cover costs. Importantly, the wines produced need to be of sufficient quality and promoted expertly if one is to succeed.
The rise of UK sparkling wine as a really high-quality product has greatly helped the situation as the price sector that these are currently selling in is much higher and shows a better margin. So this is the sector that the Estate has focused on.
Scale of the enterprise is also an issue as a profitable vineyard needs to benefit from economies of scale.
We have been guided by the owners of Dedham Vale Vineyard in Essex. They showed how lack of scale could be overcome, and gave us the confidence to move forward with the project. Our business plan involves growing grapes for juice to be sold to established vineyards located in the more traditional vine growing areas to the south of the country.
Half the vines are Pinot Noir variety and half Chardonnay, the best varieties for English Sparkling Wine.
Needing protection from, principally, deer and rabbits, many metres of fencing has been required. We cannot protect the vines from adverse weather – frost being the biggest danger – but with luck the Estate’s first saleable crop will be ready for harvest in the autumn of 2022.
The Estate was delighted to be approached by Christopher Nicola who was looking for some land on which to grow cherry trees on a commercial scale. Christopher’s parents were from Pedhoulas, a mountain village in Cyprus which has a perfect climate for cherries, and cherry growing had been in his family for generations.
‘My background’s in banking and the oil industry, but I’ve always wanted to grow plants and trees,’ he explained. ‘With new rootstock available I could see how I could grow cherries on a commercial scale, and things went from there.’
Chaldean helped identify a two acre site, behind Lordship Farm Cottages in Much Hadham, which he now rents on an Agricultural Tenancy, and which he has already prepared with deer-proof fencing, awaiting the arrival of 1,000 trees.
‘I’ll be growing eight different varieties,’ Christopher enthused. ‘This will give me the longest season over which to pick the fruit – all dessert varieties – and will also enable good cross fertilisation.’
Cherry tree growing is a slow business. The trees, all about two feet tall when planted, will take three years to produce a crop and several more years to grow to their maximum height of 10 feet. But when they achieve maturity they should produce 10 – 20 kilos per tree.
Christopher will start to explore markets, hoping to supply local farm shops and possibly a fruit co-operative with his company’s – Hadham Cherries – fruits. He will also need to find help at picking time as the whole crop will be hand-picked.
So if anyone has any free time in June and early July we are sure he would love to hear from you!
Meanwhile, we at Chaldean wish Christopher every success with what will be the only commercial cherry tree growing enterprise in Hertfordshire.
The Chaldean Estate is fortunate to have the River Rib running through its western boundary, through Latchford and Barwick (taking in Barwick Ford, pictured).
A walk along the banks will rarely reveal any fish as they tend to hide in the shadows amongst the vegetation. However, a trip out with the team from the Environment Agency responsible for the health of the county’s rivers is highly rewarding. The team sweeps through the river with a wand-like gadget that emits an electric current which attracts the fish. Suddenly, as if by magic, fish of all sizes swim lazily from their cover towards the device; the team lift them out, weigh and measure them, and take a few scale samples before returning them, unharmed, to the river. Their analysis from this exercise grades the River’s health. The fact that there are so many fish is excellent news.
Sadly, as with many British rivers, there are high numbers of non-native ‘Signal’ crayfish, which are rapidly out-numbering the smaller native crayfish. Although excellent to eat, Environment Agency permission is required to catch Signals (as well as a special trap and the land owner’s permission) which won’t be forthcoming if native species are also present.
There is an enormous amount of wildlife to watch in the vicinity of the river. There have been regular sightings of mallard, moorhens and coots; if you are lucky you will see kingfishers too.
Chaldean Estate land benefits from a large network of publicly accessible footpaths, bridleways and BOATS (otherwise known as Byways Open to All Traffic!). The map here shows them all and we warmly encourage everyone to enjoy using them. Many offer beautiful vistas which change with the seasons. There is always something of interest to see whether it be ancient woodland, acres of healthy crops, soaring red kites or more elusive herds of fallow deer.
The extent of public access is:
Restricted Bridleways: 0.64Km