Restoring and managing Kirkharle: a perpective from owner John Anderson
My whole philosophy in running the Little Harle Estate, of which Kirkharle Courtyard is an integral part, is encapsulated in the words Stewardship and Sustainability. Stewardship, without in any way wishing to appear pompous or patronising, means that I have been entrusted with the care of the land, the properties and those people who work and live there; it is a huge privilege as well as an enormous responsibility. I have always disliked the word Landlord, given all its connotations, preferring instead the term lifetime custodian. It isn’t an easy task balancing many conflicting issues and inevitably wrong decisions are made on occasion. However I have always been guided in my thinking by the accrual of long term benefits rather than short term gains, for I count myself extremely lucky to be living on land shaped and created through the efforts of my forebears; I am most anxious that future generations of the County continue to enjoy the same. I am not a preservationist by nature, preferring to be a conservationist; for we have to live in the real world where there is some acceptance that things can be changed for the better, rather than adhering to the notion that the past must be protected at all costs.
One of the most important aspects associated with stewardship is the creation of jobs to replace those lost over the years from agriculture. It is salutary to think that my Farms used to employ some 12 people when I inherited; now the Home Farm only has two, with contractors to help out at busy times. Though I know my bank manager would have much preferred me to convert the Kirkharle steading into a Courtyard development, to have done so would have only contributed to the countryside becoming even more of a dormitory area for those who work in our urban areas; rather I wanted to provide job opportunities for those who live in rural areas and want to work there as well. I find it personally gratifying that some 35 people now have full or part time employment at Kirkharle, with some 16 living within 5 miles. I am particularly pleased that we are able to offer many young students from the local area their first experience of paid work, an opportunity otherwise likely to have been denied them.
‘Sustainability’ is to ensure that what is being undertaken can be continued without putting undue pressure on resources; in the case of farming, this largely relates to fuel, fertilisers and sprays. Though I am not an advocate of organic farming, I do place great emphasis in working harmoniously with nature rather than always pushing it to the limits. I have just made the decision to return to the old crop rotation where a grassland break is a constituent part of arable cropping. This lessens the use of fertilisers and sprays which in turn leads to less pollution of water resources. It is a policy with which I am sure Brown would have agreed.
However one must never lose sight of the fact that to be sustainable one also needs to be profitable; for otherwise one will always be dependent on the State to survive. Given the health of public finances, this is an unrealistic assumption.