The Trust’s Estates in Gloucestershire
The Slimbridge Estate
In contrast to the other Ernest Cook Trust estates, the Slimbridge Estate is a relatively modern creation: it was based on an original purchase in 1945 of 1,109 acres in the parishes of Slimbridge and Gossington out of the sale of outlying portions of the Berkeley Castle Estate. The Berkeley Estate had for years been a famous sporting estate although the last Earl of Berkeley, who died young, was more interested in the sciences.
Ernest Cook extended the estate further by purchasing Breadstone Farm and Wanswell Court from the Berkeley family; the current ECT holding comprises 2,480 acres.
While most of the other Trust estates are predominantly used for arable cropping, the Slimbridge Estate is mainly grassland and includes three of the Trust’s nine dairy farms. These farms produce milk which, in one form or another, ends up on the shelves of supermarkets.
These three farms demonstrate the wide variety of countryside businesses supported on the Trust’s estates.
Farmer Simon Pain provides livery and equine services and has been a runner-up in the prestigious Pintail Awards which promote good conservation practice, while fellow farm tenants Tim and Caroline Wilson are previous winners of the Cotswold Life Magazine Food Producer of the Year Awards for their organically reared pork products.
The woods are an important feature of the Slimbridge Estate and are managed to combine the production of quality oak in conifer nurse crops with ecological biodiversity.
Unfortunately the issues associated with climate change have already reached this part of the countryside – problems have been experienced with the Norway Spruce trees which are suffering from sub top crown die back, which appears to be caused by milder winters. When the roots are dormant, the warmer air stimulates the top of the tree to start growing; this growth drains on sap that is not rising, causing stress and die back. The problem has been widespread across the estate, resulting in the need to fell all the Spruce. However, these areas are being replanted and are used increasingly for the Trust’s educational visits.
ECT has welcomed a new tenant to the Slimbridge Estate – Gerard Wildy is taking over at Slimbridge Farm following the death of Norman Smith.
Gerard has had long associations with the 383-acre dairy farm. Born and brought up in Slimbridge, in recent years he and his father John have run the farm in partnership with Mr Smith.
Three years ago he helped introduce a new automated milking system, which has saved on labour costs, increased milk yield and reduced stress among the dairy’s Holstein herd.
“ECT’s Trustees have given me so much support,” he said. “Even though it was never completely guaranteed that I would take on the tenancy, their backing gave me the confidence to put ideas for developing the farm into practice.
Currently living in a cottage on the estate, Gerard his wife Emma and children Kyra and Tiegan, plan to move into the grade-2 listed farmhouse next year.