SAMUEL BOSANQUET - ECOLOGIST
“In ten years’ time, I want our holidaymakers to be walking through flower rich fields that are buzzing with insects and taking time to lie in the meadows and watch the butterflies. I also want there to be farming enterprises in the non-parkland fields demonstrating how sustainable, organic farming on a small scale can work in this environment.”
Old-Lands is an old estate in Monmouthshire that has been in the Bosanquet family for 200 years and is run on green principles. Samuel Bosanquet, an ecologist, runs the estate alongside his wife Clare and two children after his parents decided to downsize to a farmhouse within the estate grounds. Sam and Clare have transformed some of the outbuildings into holiday cottages and are working with The Gwent Wildlife Trust and Campaign for Real Farming to turn half of the estate land into demonstration farms for sustainable, organic agriculture, and half into flower rich parkland meadows. Colum Pawson, a skilled gardener, has taken on the estate’s traditional walled garden and grows organic, seasonal vegetables which are sold in the farm shop, and are on offer as veg boxes to guests when they arrive in the holiday cottages. Colum also lives on the estate with his wife Catherine and two young daughters. I spoke to Sam about the history of Old Lands and his vision for the future.
What is the history of Old Lands?
Old Lands – the Dingestow Court estate – has been in the Bosanquet family for 200 years. There is an anachronism to Old Lands now, it is a big home that a once rich family lived in but it is still very beautiful and feels like home to me and my parents. We are trying to work out a way of keeping it as a family home whilst moving away from the anachronisms; when it was originally lived in, there was one family with servants which is not a modern way of running it. My parents split the house into three in the 1970s and we are now in the process of dividing it a bit more; the aim is to retain that feeling of a lived-in home and the history of the place. We do not want to turn it into a hotel or any sort of institution, which is what usually happens to this sort of place.
What changes have you made since taking over the estate?
The traditional way a place like Old Lands would survive is from an estate surrounding the house; rents from farmland would stop the roof from leaking and so on. We are trying to move away from that traditional philosophy; instead of having intensive agriculture on the fields and squeezing maximum rent out of them we have been in discussions with the Gwent Wildlife Trust about how we can turn them into flower rich parkland instead of grassy monocultures. We have also been working with the Campaign for Real Farming to try and create a demonstration farm for the campaign’s approach to sustainable agriculture. We want to promote sustainable, organic farming on a small scale. Our holidaymakers will be able to walk through the demonstration farms and flower rich meadows. The money that would have come in from intensive agriculture will come in from holiday makers. We are promoting a slowness, doing things in a more hands on way and thinking things through. While we are turning the clock back on some things, it is not in a dogmatic way; there are reasons for mechanisation of farming but some things have gone too far in that direction like robotic milking.
What is the story behind the walled garden at Old Lands?
What Colum has done in the walled garden typifies our approach. The walled garden was my mum’s flower garden and it looked beautiful but I am not a skilled gardener and it would have taken all my time to look after it. Colum’s suggestion for setting up a CSA there and providing food to the local people seemed like the best solution. It is a brilliant symbiotic relationship; Colum gets the benefit of our holiday makers buying his veg while we get the benefit of our holiday guests having access to fresh, organic food that is grown on site.
What are you hoping to achieve with your nature walks?
On the nature walks I am trying to show people things they would not necessarily look at if they were out on a country walk on their own. We will turn over a stone and look at an ant colony and the little white ant woodlice that live within it. We might sniff the garlic snails, and look at the cedar cup fungi under the cedar trees, and the huge swan mussel shells in the stream. We want to look at slightly different things to what you would traditionally look at on a nature walk.
What do you want to have achieved at Old Lands in ten years’ time?
In ten years’ time, I want our holidaymakers to be walking through flower rich fields that are buzzing with insects and taking time to lie in the meadows and watch the butterflies. I also want there to be farming enterprises in the non-parkland fields demonstrating how sustainable, organic farming on a small scale can work in this environment.
All photos taken by Clare Bosanquet