Blog •  02/03/2021

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel”: Nick Down

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2021 got off to a bit of a frustrating start here on the Yattendon Estate as we waited on news that our countryside stewardship application had been accepted. After a few hours in the RPA phone queue our offer arrived – not exactly how we’d applied but at least it’s a start. A few changes have been made of which most could have been sorted out over the phone, no doubt letters will bounce backwards and forwards for the next few months.

If feels a bit like we’ve wasted six weeks when we could have been getting started on some tree planting during the quieter months. It would be nice to think that in the new world of ELMS, agreements will run with the harvest year, we can all but hope, maybe even annual options that give some flexibility to fit in with a yearly rotation?

The Countryside Stewardship agreement will see us take out of production a lot of the poorer performing areas and smaller fields, it’s a significant area allowing us to make some changes to our fixed cost structure.

We’re recruiting a small team of helpers to monitor plants, butterflies and farmland birds made up of local people who know the area well. Hopefully it will give us some accurate numbers to demonstrate the progress we’re making on the farm and provide us with some valuable local knowledge on how to improve along the way.

Despite lockdown restrictions we’ve also had some visitors staying with us – our neighbour’s sheep have grazed off most of our winter cover crops ahead of spring drilling. We understand the integration of livestock into our system as we move to a more regenerative approach and this is one way that this is a good example of how it works for us at this stage. 

Some of the earlier drilled covers had developed a significant amount of biomass which may have been an issue for our tined sprinter drill. We’ve varied how much growth we’ve left, and left a couple of fields untouched so we can analyse the benefit of including the sheep during the spring. We understand the need for livestock in the system as we move to a more regenerative approach.

I’m also in the process of redoing our LEAF Sustainable Farm Review and plans for the next 12 months. We’re going to do a bit more work on our soils, with more in-depth sampling and surveying across the site, with a focus on organic matter and soil carbon.

The weather is starting to improve as March arrives, and ground conditions are allowing us to make the first applications of nitrogen and catch up with some rolling that was left over from the autumn. As we head towards early spring the light at the end of the tunnel shines a little brighter every day….


· Farming in Berkshire

· 2,000ha of combinable crops established in a min-till system, as part of the 3,200ha Yattendon Estate

· The Estate is also home to 130ha of Christmas trees and 160 let properties plus 40 commercial and light industrial units which have been

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