New Woodland Taking Shape at Needwood

As part of its woodland creation plan, the Duchy of Lancaster has planted more than 175 new avenue trees on the Needwood estate in Staffordshire. Working in partnership with forestry consultants Forwoods and the National Forest, the new planting includes trees within the existing hedgerow along the A515, tree-lined entranceways to Hadley Farm and Eland Lodge Equestrian Centre and a new avenue of trees along Pipey Lane, which will provide both landscaping and habitat benefits. All are native species, including oak, lime and sycamore.

The Duchy has also completed the first planting phase of a five-year plan to create 25 acres of new woodland on the estate, reintroducing indigenous species such as oak, lime, silver birch, sycamore, Scots pine and field maple. The new woodland areas will be accessible to the general public, extending the National Forest and increasing the biodiversity of natural habitats to support local wildlife.

Commenting on the progress to date, Duchy Head of Rural Carol Hawkey said: “I am really delighted to see this new planting take shape and to know that it provides a positive local landscape contribution and will be enjoyed by future generations. Environmental sustainability is key to our long-term plans for our woodland so we have focused on introducing an appropriate mix of native species and integrated wildlife corridors wherever we are planting. We are also using recyclable tree guards and looking at ways to further improve our carbon sequestration in the years ahead.”

The Duchy’s Needwood Estate extends to 2,953-hectares and historically included a large area of ancient woodland which was home to extensive stocks of wolf, wild boar and fallow deer. Today 500 hectares of this woodland remains and in 2015 the Duchy entered into a 10-year woodland management plan to improve and enhance the existing stock.

The Needwood Estate, including the Royal Forest of Needwood, first became part of the Duchy of Lancaster circa 1267 when Henry III gifted the land to his son Edmund, the first Earl of Lancaster and predecessor of the celebrated diplomat and soldier Henry Grosmont on whom Edward II conferred the new title of ‘Duke of Lancaster’ in 1351.

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Bringing Redundant Farm Buildings Back Into Use

The Duchy of Lancaster has this month applied for planning permission to convert a redundant disused barn, stable block and cart-shed at Bantons Barn on the Wyreside estate in Lancashire into three new residential dwellings.

Bantons Farm is located on Chipping Road approximately half a mile south of the picturesque village of Dolphinholme and seven miles south of the historic city of Lancaster. The former farmstead includes a two-storey farmhouse with an attached bank barn. A single-storey stone outbuilding lies to the west of the farmhouse and to the south-west is a detached two-storey stable block with an adjacent cart shed. Although the farmhouse itself is Grade II Listed and bears a datestone of 1747 above the door, the other buildings were built approximately 100 years later and have been sitting empty and unused for several years.  

If the application is approved, the proposals will bring these old buildings back into use, retaining original features and using traditional materials to reflect their architectural heritage and the surrounding local environment.

Commenting on the project, Duchy Head of Rural Development Lara Thompson said: “The preservation of historic buildings and the opportunity to make them accessible to a new generation is a responsibility that the Duchy takes very seriously.  Our mission is to create sustainable and energy-efficient residential properties which bring redundant agricultural buildings back into use by making them fit for purpose and up to date while respecting the integrity of their architectural heritage. We believe that the sensitive re-purposing of these rural buildings at Bantons Farm will be of long-term benefit to the area and provide attractive, high quality and energy-efficient homes for local families.”

As part of the application process, the Duchy engaged Salford University’s Archaeology Department to undertake a full investigation of the historical, architectural and social significance of the site and buildings. The purpose of the report, which forms part of the planning submission, is to identify features of merit and prevent the loss of historic fabric during any redevelopment.

The Duchy of Lancaster’s Wyreside estate forms part of the Lancashire Survey which also includes estates in Whitewell, Myerscough and Salwick. Part of the ancient inheritance which began the Duchy in 1265, today the Wyreside estate comprises one main agricultural holding, four residential properties and 39 commercial and miscellaneous lettings, ranging from private fishing lakes to family camping and caravan parks.


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Growing the Rural Team

Rural surveyor Lydia Richards MRICS joins the Duchy of Lancaster team this month, helping us to further develop our engagement with tenants across the rural estates.

Lydia has spent the last four years working as an Assistant Land Agent on the Packington Estate in Worcestershire. She originally graduated from the University of Leeds with a BSc in Environmental Sciences before going on to complete a Masters degree in Rural Estate and Land Management at Harper Adams University in Shropshire.

Based at Lancaster Castle, in her new role Lydia will work with Estates Director Laura Airton to look after the Duchy’s historic estates in Lancashire and Cheshire.

Commenting on the appointment, Duchy Head of Rural Carol Hawkey said: “I am delighted that Lydia has chosen to join us and have every confidence that she will enjoy her new role. Each of the Duchy estates has its own diverse portfolio of agricultural, residential and commercial tenants and each of those tenants has their own individual needs, aims and challenges. The objective of the Duchy’s rural team is to fully understand these – particularly in the current climate – so that we can continue to offer appropriate levels of assistance and support. We believe this is best achieved by recruiting the right people at the right time and Lydia’s appointment is part of that process.”

Lydia comes from a farming background and continues to take an active interest in the family farm in Herefordshire, assisting her parents with lambing and cropping rotations throughout the year. She is also actively involved in the farm’s Educational Access through Environmental Stewardship scheme.

The Duchy of Lancaster has five Rural Surveys across England and Wales: Cheshire, Lancashire, Southern, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. The Lancashire Survey is one of the oldest in the Duchy and currently includes 3,942 hectares across four estates: Myerscough, Salwick, Whitewell and Wyreside. The Cheshire Survey includes 1,557 hectares and is centred on the historic Crewe Estate.

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Sustainable Future For Whitehall Bank Farm

A former dairy holding on the Duchy’s Needwood Estate in Staffordshire has been intelligently re-purposed and refurbished, creating a sustainable long-term future for the farmhouse, buildings and adjoining 160 acres of grazing land.

Whitehall Bank Farm was home to the Bailey family for almost 20 years until the tenants decided to retire from farming in 2019. This provided the Duchy with an opportunity to review the existing holding and future-proof it for generations to come.

A number of dilapidated and redundant farm buildings were removed as part of the project, including the old parlour, cow kennels and bull pens, while the 3 good-sized modern steel portal-framed buildings and the former stables were retained. Given the limited infrastructure on site, the Duchy took the decision to amalgamate the agricultural component with an adjacent farm and let the land to an existing tenant, thereby providing some operational efficiencies.

The traditional Staffordshire farmhouse underwent substantial reconfiguration and refurbishment according to the Duchy’s own design specification, creating an additional bedroom, ensuite bathroom, utility room and modern open plan kitchen/living space complete with double-fronted wood burner. The existing equestrian facilities were further improved and 5 acres of land retained with the farmhouse to provide a 4-bedroomed farmhouse with stables and grazing land available to let. The property was pre-let and occupied within 10 days of completion.

Commenting on the strategic approach taken at Whitehall Bank Farm, Duchy Head of Rural Carol Hawkey said: “By thinking creatively we have continued our ongoing investment in our estates, brought this historic steading back into use and given the farmhouse a new lease of life. This was quite a complicated project, but one which has resulted in a sustainable future for the holding. We now have a new long-term tenant in the farmhouse, with the functional farm buildings providing a satellite steading to the neighbouring farmer.

“All works on site were carried out by local contractors and finished to an extremely high standard. We are all very pleased with the result and wish both our farming tenant and our new residential tenants a very happy future at Whitehall Bank Farm.”

Whitehall Bank Farm is located just outside the village of Draycott-in-the-Clay and forms part of the Duchy’s Staffordshire Survey which covers 2,953 hectares concentrated largely around the area of Needwood. The Survey includes a mix of arable, dairy, sheep and beef farms as well as around 50 residential properties and a diverse mix of commercial operations including a saw mill, equestrian centres, offices and a private airfield.

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New Owners for Penkhull Village Hall

The efforts of local volunteers in the village of Penkhull near Stoke-on-Trent were rewarded in December when a new Community Trust took over the ownership of the local village hall with a little help from the Duchy of Lancaster.

The hall was built in 1845 and originally served as a school for the poor. Set up by the Church of England, it was the responsibility of a Trust held in the name of the then vicar and churchwardens of St Thomas’ Church.  It continued to function as a school building until 1993 when St Peter’s High School left the premises and volunteers from the church relaunched it as a community centre. However, under the terms of the historic Trust, ownership of the building was dependent on its continued use as a school.

After some investigation, local volunteers discovered that the failed Trust had in fact reverted to the Duchy of Lancaster. They therefore contacted the Duchy who offered to transfer the property to a properly constituted community charity for a nominal £1 consideration.

In response, a group of volunteers who had been running the hall as a community centre came together to create Penkhull Village Hall Community Trust (PVHCT). While awaiting the legal transfer of ownership the members of the PVHCT set about restoring and renovating the premises ready to relaunch it when the process completed at the beginning of December 2020.

Commenting on the campaign to secure the hall for the future, PVHCT Chairman Mike Allen said: “Everyone has worked so hard over the last six years to make this a reality. We are very grateful to the Duchy of Lancaster for their support which effectively paved the way for the transfer of ownership. We now have a facility that is fit-for-purpose and which reinforces the sense of community that makes this village such a special place to live. The building will live on as a community hub for Penkhull and we look forward to working with residents to develop a programme of activities suitable for all.”

Although not part of the Duchy of Lancaster estates, Penkhull was a Royal Manor from the time of William the Conqueror until the reign of Edward II in 1308.  At the turn of the 18th century it was developed by Josiah Spode II as a dormitory suburb of Stoke-on-Trent.

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