We have a lot of neighbours. We have residents of Kemsing, Heverham, Seal, Wrotham, Ightham, Otford, West Kingsdown, Ash and Stansted neighbouring our land. When we took over running the estate we wrote a plan for the estate, and one of our three key values is to steward the estate for the benefit of our family, staff and tenants, and for the benefit of our neighbours. I love living in this little corner of England where there is so little change to the landscape, and I imagine our neighbours do too. We love our neighbours, and hope they love us too.
But to keep the house standing, the farm running, the hedgerows trimmed, the cottages habitable, the footpaths walkable and the woodlands managed takes time and money. I have had to accept that sometimes we have to make compromises and to seize opportunities to bring in money even when ideally I would like to keep this place frozen in time. Not moving forward is not an option, estates all over England have been sold off in pieces because they didn’t move with the times.
Since we’ve moved in here we have been overwhelmingly supported by our neighbours. We’ve unwittingly annoyed other neighbours. I hate upsetting people, and in this role, that’s a real problem. I am slowly learning to develop a thicker skin. There was the neighbour who wrote to us once we’d lived here for two months letting me know how arrogant he found the fact that we hadn’t introduced ourselves to him. There are the neighbours who find it intolerable that we won’t allow dogs to be walked off footpaths however many times we explain there are often guns fired to control vermin in those areas and we are worried they might get shot! People don’t like the fact that at harvest time our grain is picked up by huge lorries sent by the people we’ve sold the grain to, and those lorries cause inconvenience and difficulty moving through Wrotham. Others hate it when we occasionally have to burn linseed straw after harvest. I would argue that such inconvenience is part of living in the middle of farmland, and that it is only by economies of scale that the land can continue being farmed. If farmland doesn’t make money, it will inevitably end up being sold for other use.
I am told I can’t please all the people all the time, but I find that nearly unbearable! I just hope that most of the people notice that we are doing our best as stewards of the countryside.
The decisions we’re taking at the moment are likely to impact on our neighbours. Our monstrous farm site, with the two huge blue silos which can be seen from all over the valley (the towers of San Gimignano this is NOT!) is in desperate need of demolishment. But it’s going to cost a fortune to take down the towers so we need to try to pay for that somehow. We are about to put in planning applications for the site. I will be very interested to see how the development proposals are viewed by our neighbours. My hope is that they will agree with me that, although the site is within an AONB, it is currently an Site of Outstanding Unnatural Ugliness and that on this occasion, staying still is a worse option than making change.