Ian quits his office and trusts in a fresh start

PROUD TENANT: Ian Cairns

checking part of his flock in a conservation area where stocking levels are restricted – Pictures: Neil Ryder

First published in Farming
Last updated

A SMALL advert for the tenancy of a National Trust farm led to Ian Cairns forsaking his relatively safe world as SAC’s manager for the North of England.

He is now enjoying a new life as the proud tenant of a 325-acre farm at Wallington, Northumberland.

The result of a restructuring of the farms on the trust’s Wallington Hall estate, the tenancy includes managing and developing areas of high conservation value and being closely linked to the hall by offering visitors tours of a commercially- run farm.

Ian said: “My partner, Yvonne, and I have had the tenancy of a relatively small farm near Wooler for many years, which we have run alongside our full-time jobs.

“I had been with SAC for 17 years, the past few as manager here in the North of England.

“Yvonne is a selfemployed consultant and also works part-time at Askham Bryan College, near York.”

The couple had looked at larger farm tenancies for many years, but never made any applications.

“I’m still not sure whether there was an element of mid-life crisis, combined with a feeling that if we didn’t make the move now, it could well be too late,” said Ian.

“It’s a hellish thing applying for a tenancy, and you have to put everything into making an application.

“There is always strong competition for National Trust tenancies. We viewed the farm in May last year, and finally got the tenancy in November last year. We moved our sheep and cattle here in January.”

The trust made it clear that they were not simply looking for the highest bidder.

They wanted a tenant able and willing to work with them in meeting their needs for conservation management, and willing to welcome the public on to the farm as an extension of their activities at Wallington Hall.

Ian said: “The rent works out about 25 per cent lower than is being asked for some private tenancies around here. The National Trust has leased us the farm’s entitlements so we can receive the Single Farm Payments. This helps us as it saves having to spend more than £25,000 to buy the entitlements for this farm.”

The land was in a Countryside Stewardship scheme and is now in an ELS environmental scheme, as all available HLS schemes are now taken up.

“The farm is really managed as an HLS agreement without the HLS payments,” said Ian.

“The trust initially offered us a ten-year farm business tenancy, but we explained that much of the initial work would not be completed for about five years, and they extended this to a 15-year FBT agreement. This also worked well personally as it will take me to 65 years of age.

“Financially, we are very much dependent on the farm. We retain the tenancy of Crookham, our 100-acre farm near Wooler. Yvonne knew a local lad, who is an Askham Bryan student, who was looking to make a start in farming and, with our landlord’s agreement, he has now taken over the land and buildings on an annual agreement. This works well as it has given a young person a start in farming.”

Ian and Yvonne moved in with about 130 Texel and Texel-cross sheep with some Zwartbles, and bought in another 220 ewes. They also brought 15 suckler cows from their old farm.

Grazing management is not straightforward as there are conservation areas with very restricted stocking levels and grazing periods. It is also a farm that could potentially carry twice the stock during the summer than in winter.

One big difference is that at Broomhouse Farm, rainfall is about 60 inches – double the Wooler Farm – and drainage issues are being tackled by sub-soiling.

The land is mostly permanent pasture with some rotational grass. The farm had 105 arable acres, of which 65 acres have been put back to grass. The remaining may return to grass next year.

Ian said: “Yvonne has always preferred cattle, while I like sheep. For us, as a new business on a tight budget, sheep have the advantage that ewes cost about £100 per head and produce lambs worth that in the first year, whereas it is two years before cows can recoup their cost.

“Cattle wintering costs will also be high because of the longer housing period.”

Ian thinks Broomhouse will eventually have about 600 ewes and 30 cattle. They plan to keep about 100 ewes lambing in February to have early lambs for the spring trade.

Calves and sheep are sold through live auction, mostly through Scots Gap in relatively small numbers. Some lamb boxes will continue to be sold direct to the public.

The trust is keen for Ian and Yvonne to offer caravan and camping during the school summer holidays.

This year, toilets and washing facilities will be hired in, and the trust has a former farm shop building that will be moved to the farm and adapted as a visitor centre.

It can provide basic camp facilities and has a room suitable for handling meat.

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