Friday, 2 June 2017

Nocton Estate - major improvements

Beeswax Dyson Farming

I would like to thank Ben Wills (Head of Property) for inviting me for a tour of the many improvements taking place on Nocton Estate. It was good to be introduced to James Thompson (Head of Farming) too.

Nocton Estate - plan

Overall, I found this a most interesting visit and was left very impressed with the professionalism of management, the ethical aims of this company and extent of investment involved in this major project.

This is a report of my visit and the many facets of work currently being undertaken.

New relief road

Steady progress is being made with the new road foundations, involving tonnes of crushed stone. The local stone is rather too soft for effective compacting, therefore road stone is having to be sourced elsewhere and trucked in. To avoid the edges of the road breaking up on completion, an innovative process will be used to lay the kerbing.

Relief road - under construction

Instead of installing pre-cast concrete kerbs, a powered machine will pour and shape concrete kerbing in a continuous flow, forming the boundary of the road surface. I believe the official term is slip-form construction. A top surface will then be laid to complete the new road.

However, there is yet more stone to be laid before this work can take place and currently the contractors are constructing the bridleway crossing point between Nocton/Dunston. Public access between the two villages is being maintained throughout the construction work.

Cricket field

New fencing has been erected around the cricket pitch and gates inserted for easy access/egress to the surrounding field. Beeswax Dyson Farming have also been instrumental in improving the grounds with heavy rolling.

Support may yet extend to refurbishing/renewing the old cricket pavilion, which is now reaching the end of its lifespan. This would transform the area and improve the facilities no end for Nocton Cricket Club.

Nocton Cricket Club - super location

Nocton Wood House

It has been decided to convert this residential property into the main Head Office of the company administration. This will involve converting rooms into offices, creating a boardroom and opening out the interior. There will also be a couple of self contained flats for any overnight visitors

As part of this work, a large ground to roof level window will be inserted to the right of the main entrance, with a similar window to the rear, allowing clear and panoramic views over the countryside.

Contractors are already on-site and work is ongoing to make the necessary changes. This will create a unique working environment for the administration staff of the Beeswax Dyson Farming empire.

Nocton Wood House - 2012

Farm complex

The construction of this huge complex is well underway. The concrete apron is currently being poured and the main access to the yard is almost complete.

Grain store and amenity block - a major development

The grain store has been fully erected and fitting out is underway in readiness for the main harvest this year. I think it is fair to say that Beeswax Dyson Farming have been struggling somewhat with the existing facilities on the estate. This new complex will therefore transform operations, enabling greater efficiency and improving cost effectiveness too.

The main steelwork for the amenity block has now been erected and will incorporate many facilities:
  • a shower-block with lockers and canteen
  • a weighbridge office
  • a farm office with meeting rooms
  • a laboratory
  • a chemical store
  • a sprayer fill area
  • a workshop and materials/equipment store
  • a covered storage area for plant/machinery

Amenity block erected - concrete apron being laid

Whilst the new farm complex is well-sited in the landscape, further measures will take place to screen the facility from Wasp's Nest residents. The land adjacent to the private farm track will be raised by an embankment and will be planted with vegetation for this purpose.

Farm complex - view from Wasp's Nest

Nocton Wood

It could be argued that over the years Nocton Wood has been somewhat neglected, becoming rather overgrown and uncared for. Some people think that woods are better left untouched to become a haven for wildlife, but that is not always beneficial. Left unchecked, invasive species can take over and light will be restricted by a congested canopy. With traditional woodland practices on the decline, many woods now lack open space and sunlight on the woodland floor, restricting those flowers and butterflies that favour open-space environments.

Nocton Wood - invasive rhododendrons

I am therefore pleased to report that Beeswax Dyson Farming have continued to thin out and care for the woodland. Not only does this provide supplies of timber and coppice products, but will also create a diversity of habitat.

Nocton Wood - timber awaiting removal

Some of our best-loved woodland wildlife depends for its survival on woodland management – woodland wild flowers and butterflies flourish in these traditionally managed woods. Woodland management doesn't mean being too clinical with clearance though. By leaving dead wood and old trees, birds like woodpeckers, lots of interesting beetles and a range of fascinating fungi can be encouraged too.

Fascinating fungi

I happened to mention to Ben about The Nine Brethren that is thought to be an ancient boundary marker. I was encouraged to hear that work is taking place to halt its decline, by diverting the old track from the base of this ancient tree, thus avoiding any further compression/damage to its root expanse, aiding it to recover. Nocton Wood is an important non-SSSI site for the area and deserves careful attention.

Promoting wildlife corridors

Extensive work has been undertaken to create margins and meadows for wildflowers and grasses to promote and sustain wildlife around the farm. This has been quite a challenge in that farming soil is generally very fertile and yet wildflowers require poor soils to thrive. Numerous owl boxes have been erected around the estate to promote nesting sites for these lovely birds and these are starting to be occupied already.

Nocton Estate - wildflower meadow
One of the many owl boxes

Inquisitive lapwing

Subsidies and Brexit

I asked about the potential impacts of leaving the EU and unsurprisingly find that Beeswax Dyson Farming are already in talks with the Country Land and Business Association Limited (CLA) over this matter.

With regard to Countryside Stewardship grants, these are protected for the time being. Yet even if they were to continue, the Beeswax Dyson Farming empire have already invested far in excess of the grant returns currently.

I understand that on average, 60% of farm incomes come in the form of EU subsidies, so it could have a material effect on landowners should entitlement change.

"One of the tasks that we will have when we leave the European Union is to decide what support is provided to agriculture as a result of being outside the common agricultural policy."
Prime Minister Theresa May

HM Government has promised to match the EU subsidies up until 2020, but beyond that it has promised nothing. It remains to be seen quite what the actual impacts will be.

Improvements to drainage and irrigation

Many fields on the estate have had new land drains installed. The drainage dykes and waterways have also been dug out to improve and increase flows.

This prompted me to ask about water conservation in general and about licences for extraction.

On the Fen, drainage dykes have been restricted allowing water to be retained, enabling moisture to seep into soils underneath the crops reducing the need for overhead spraying.

As a further example of minimising water use, I was shown a field of potatoes which had dribble pipes providing sustainable irrigation right to the point of requirement.

There are sufficient licences for extraction, but the estate could benefit from having more reservoirs constructed. This could be another improvement project in the future.

Beeswax Dyson Farming has representation on the Witham Drainage Board.

Anaerobic Digester

This facility is currently shutdown whilst a 30,000-hour service is undertaken. Since my last visit, much improvement has been made to this site, with a new concrete apron and bunding installed, together with a ramp for 'feeding' the digester. Large silage clamps have been installed as well.

Furthermore, landscaping has been improved to help screen the facility and a new access road is currently being laid to replace the rough surface track.

Anaerobic digester - 2011

The high voltage electricity output from this facility will be utilised to power the new farm complex, and possibly the administration centre at Nocton Wood House too. Any excess supply will be returned to the National Grid.

Saving old buildings

It is good to see efforts being made to save old derelict buildings on the estate, giving them a new life/purpose. One such example is a rather distressed brick-built barn on the Fen that has seen better times. The plan is to re-purpose this into a new wildlife 'home', incorporating nesting boxes for owls and other birds, with bat boxes included too.

There are also plans in place for the sensitive conversion of an existing farm workshop on the Fen to provide facilities for meetings, functions and staff training together with formation of paved areas to the entrances and car parking.

This demonstrates Beeswax Dyson Farming property portfolio mantra in action:

"Dilapidated? Never in our eyes. All over the estate, we’re bringing new life to old buildings, keeping a keen focus on the building’s history and surrounding landscape as we go."

I do hope this drive and determination to succeed, will see other major buildings hugely important to the historical heart of the Nocton Estate, resurrected and renovated so they are not lost forever.

Historical heart of Nocton Estate

Management and Leadership

It certainly appears the company place great emphasis on good leadership and teamwork. It provides opportunities for employees to develop competences, nurturing them as a part of the Beeswax team, in readiness for progression into more senior roles.

My first impressions are of a close knit team - I particularly liked to see the senior managers stopping at every opportunity to have a word with staff working on-site... and I wasn't left out from this, by being introduced to them too.

It was all very inclusive and certainly promotes the ethos of a 'family' concern in the widest sense. Nice to see these 'soft skills' still being fostered in this day and age of lean management, profit margins and bottom lines.

Lincoln University

As might be expected for a company connected to Sir James Dyson, it is very interested about bringing more innovation to the farming industry. In fact, our very own University of Lincoln has the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems whose research is at the forefront of advances in agri-tech and agri-food specialisms.

I understand Beeswax Dyson Farming have already developed a connection with this team.

Farm tours

A new trailer has been requisitioned for tours. Pupils from Nocton School were one of the first to experience this.

In the next couple of months, a tour is also planned for members of The Worshipful Company of Farmers... and other tours will take place to showcase the excellent work being carried out by Beeswax Dyson Farming on Nocton Estate.

Final thoughts

It is my belief the local community are very privileged to have Beeswax Dyson Farming now owning and maintaining the surrounding land that is Nocton Estate.

What I have seen in action every bit validates the mission statements on their website:

"Our aim is to improve the quality of our assets as a whole for the benefit of future generations. We aim to deliver profit and asset growth through good management... at Beeswax Dyson Farming, a huge element of our ethos lies in protecting the land. We want to maintain and optimise it, so that future generations can enjoy it, just as we do."

Long may this continue.

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