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Gaddesden Estate News April 2020

The world is a very strange place right now, and it is extraordinary to see what change a week has made to everyone’s daily lives, and particularly to those with businesses supplying the event and hospitality sector, which have had their order books and business cancelled overnight. We hope that everyone in the parish stays well, and that we all come out of this stronger, whenever that may be.

Life seems to be on hold, and it will come as no surprise that we have decided to postpone our 500th anniversary celebrations on 4th April and 16th May, until the situation becomes clearer.

The year marches on, and the arrival of spring brings with it a busy time on the farm, assuming we can continue to work. Like everyone, we are much looking forward to some warm and dryer weather. The wettest February on record has continued into March, with the forecast forever promising to be ‘better next week’. A few dry days this week have allowed us to get on with rolling some of the wheat and barley, which will help it to put on more shoots or ‘tillers’, as well as pushing the stones in, making harvest easier. We have also been able to apply some phosphate, which will help with rooting. Our soils were sampled for nutrition in the autumn and the phosphate has been applied to where it is most needed, the tractor and spreader being controlled by GPS and a computer-generated plan, varying the rate of application as we drive along. It has certainly been nice to get on the land again, though we need a bit more dry weather before we can plant.

We hope to plant a range of spring crops this year, with a mixture of oats, linseed and beans. The oats we hope will be good enough for porridge production, but the risk of them not making the grade increases as the planting date gets later – they need sufficient growing days and hours of sunlight to develop the grains fully.

We haven’t grown beans for a few years, but this year we have a conundrum as significant areas of both the winter barley and the oilseed rape have failed. All being well we will plant beans on the failed barley, and these, being a legume, will add nutrition to the soil for next year. If they are good enough quality they typically are sold to be shipped to Egypt, where they get made into falafel, and we’ll hope to make the grade this year.

It is certainly a year of mixing and matching and trying to make the best of the situation, as cropping plans change from day to day! We will probably also be planting some clover-based mixes for soil improvement after the failed rape, though these won’t be harvested. We may get some sheep to graze them through the summer, which will help the soil still more.

In other news, the Estate has been approached by a television production company who may like to use Home Farm and the surrounding land as a setting for a new series. It is a high-end and prestigious production which tells the story of a US Air Force Bomber Group based in England during World War II. The production would plan to recreate the airbase on the estate, but without any flying. The overall provisional filming period for the production is September 2020 - May 2021, with preparation works in advance and re-instatement on completion. Filming will take place at multiple locations across the South East, with scenes at Gaddesden occurring on intermittent dates during this time, anticipated to be on five separate occasions.

Due to the longevity, the producers will be required to submit a planning application to Dacorum for a temporary change of use for filming, and you will doubtless see the notices about this. All sets and materials would of course be removed at the end of the production and the farmland restored. We are exploring the possibility of establishing 1940s meadow type grasses for the production to aid both authenticity and biodiversity, and the producers will be keen to engage with the local community whilst they are here.

There will invariably be a small amount of extra traffic at the beginning and end of the day over the periods when filming is taking place, but all steps will be taken to mitigate any impact, especially around Red Lion Lane. At the same time we would expect a number of economic benefits with the increased footfall in the area.

The final arrangements are yet to be confirmed and we will provide any updates as and when we have them. These plans are, of course, subject to developments with the ongoing pandemic. In the meantime please do contact the Estate Office via [email protected] with any queries.