The innovative and forward-thinking way in which the land on a private North East estate is managed and utilised has lead to the landowner winning a prestigious national award.
Viscount Ridley, owner of the Blagdon Estate in South East Northumberland, has been chosen by the Royal Agricultural Society of England as the winner of its Bledisloe Medal for 2015.
The Medal is awarded in recognition of a landowner who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in the successful land management and development of an agricultural estate in England.
It has a particular focus on the creation of features of benefit to the local community, the environment or for the wider public good, and the development alternative sources of income.
Now over 300 years old, the Blagdon Estate is a thriving rural centre for enterprise which provides a home for dozens of North East businesses, and supports a wide range of local charity, school and community activities.
Around a quarter of the Estate land is farmed by Blagdon Farming Ltd, with just under half farmed by tenants and the remainder occupied by woodland, roads and properties.
Most of the residential properties on the Estate are let to tenants, with the remainder occupied by either current or retired estate workers.
It is also home to Northumberlandia, the 400m-long Lady Of The North landform designed by renowned artist Charles Jencks and built from around 1.5 million tonnes of carefully selected stone, clay and soil extracted from the adjacent Shotton surface mine, which is operated by regional employer The Banks Group.
Blagdon and Banks jointly covered the whole of the £3m invested in the creation of Northumberlandia and its adjacent water bodies, which have been gifted to the community and which are managed by independent charity The Land Trust as a self-sustaining amenity for the local community and an attraction for visitors to the region.
Restoration of Estate land mined over the last decade has already resulted in the creation and re-creation of woodland, lakes, wetland and farmland, as well as the reinstatement of a 200 year-old parkland landscape that was lost decades before.
Blagdon also has a long history of supporting local good causes, and hosts thousands of visitors at numerous charity Open Garden events every year. It also runs various events for the local community, including Easter trails, Halloween parties and summer picnics, and is an active member of the Country Trust, a charity which provides farm visits to children from urban schools.
Viscount Ridley will be presented with the Bledisloe Medal at a special RASE event at Blagdon in September.
Humphrey Salwey, chair of the Bledisloe Medal judging panel for the Royal Agricultural Society of England, says: “We found the Blagdon Estate to be excellent in many respects, and especially wanted to highlight the extensive environmental improvement work that has been undertaken across the land.
“Blagdon is a well-rounded Estate which has both an impressive past and a very promising future, and our great congratulations go to Viscount Ridley and his team.”
Robert Downer, chief executive at The Blagdon Estate, adds: “This is a real feather in the cap for both the Estate and the wider region, and is testament to the work we try to do to use what we have here to the benefit of the wider community.
“The Blagdon Estate is host to dozens of families, hundreds of jobs and tens of thousands of visitors, and our commercial activities allow for significant funding, without public subsidy, to be allocated towards improving local community and tourism facilities which otherwise simply would not be available from any other source.”
Matthew Williamson, an associate at Land Factor, who are the managing agents of the Estate, says: “Managing an historic estate such as Blagdon in the 21st century demands an outward-looking and inclusive approach, with appropriate diversification as a central theme of its operation, and having the validity of our work credited by the Royal Agricultural Society of England gives great credence to the approach we take.”