Restoring and managing Kirkharle: a perpective from owner John Anderson
The following is taken from a talk by John Anderson about Kirkharle Estate.
"The earth was not given to us by our fathers; it is lent to us by our children."
This old Kenyan proverb is an apt phrase in which to recount the story of Capability Brown’s lake at Kirkharle, for it places a direct responsibility on those of us lucky enough to own land rather than the vague aspiration of wanting to leave land in a better condition than one found it. This sentiment has always been in the forefront of my mind since inheriting the Little Harle in 1971 on the death of my maternal grandfather; at that time I was intent on making the Army my career, but with no one to live in the family home and care for the estate, I very reluctantly decided to leave in 1975 and enter agricultural college to learn a new business; my best decision was to marry my wife Kitty in 1976, as she has not only created a loving and happy family, but she has been very much my partner in helping to transform the estate and farm into what it is today. Without her drive, skill and interest, I would never have succeeded; indeed the creation of the lake and parkland is very largely of her doing.
When we took over, the estate was very run down; my grandfather had worked on the principle that he would take very little money out of the land, but equally spend very little on it. This philosophy was vividly represented in his attitude to trees where he never cut any woods down but equally never planted any; as such the woodlands were dying on their feet; admittedly, it was in many respects wonderful to be surrounded by some mature specimen trees, but it was sad to see so many rotten in the trunk and with limbs shed. The Estate and Farm desperately needed investment, but after old Death Duties, money was in very short supply. Fortuitously, in an agricultural sense, we had joined the Common Market and with the importance of the CAP, farmers were encouraged through a mix of subsidies and grants to invest in the development of their farms to ensure security of food supply. I was also lucky to be able to take a neighbouring 300 acre tenancy into hand, with the retirement of the outgoing tenant, to double my home farm acreage to 600. Over the intervening years and in similar circumstances, we have acquired a further 3 farms taking our total acreage up to some 1500 acres, all within a ring fence. On this land, we have a suckler herd of 110 cows, a ewe flock of 1600 and an arable acreage of some 450 acres (wheat/barley/OSR). Interspersed between the fields are a number of small woodlands, predominantly mixed hard woods, and individual hedgerow trees.