Parking space on one side, wheat on the other

Click to follow
The Independent Travel
Lucky the men and women who can drive to work without risk of becoming stuck in traffic, who have parking space galore when they arrive, and who, from their office, can look down over 20 acres of wheat to a sweep of forest in the distance.

Such is the lot of the staff at Berringtons, the Herefordshire firm of chartered surveyors. Until three years ago they were based in the centre of Hereford, which suffers nightmare congestion at rush-hours; now they are happily ensconced in a former bull-pen deep in the heart of the 5,500-acre Whitfield Estate.

It would be hard to imagine more glorious surroundings. The estate has belonged to the Clive family since 1800, and today George Clive - a gentle, scholarly bachelor in his fifties - runs it with skill and imagination, combining an awareness of the need to innovate with a strong feel for tradition.

The conversion of the bull-pen is only one of the new projects on which the estate has launched out in recent years. Another conversion has been that of a disused barn into a light industrial plant producing Tippy metal bins for carrying hot ashes. With coal fires generally on their way out, this does not sound a very promising idea; yet demand and output have both risen steadily.

Besides, Mr Clive soon realised that the manufacturing process could easily be adapted to the production of hoppers for putting out poisoned squirrel bait, and the plant is now turning out these as well. The venture is thus a success on all fronts: it is making money, it is using a building which had become surplus to requirements, and it is giving full-time employment to two farm staff, who might otherwise have had to be paid off.

Across the yard stand huge brick barns - high and handsome structures dating from the 17th century. One has already been converted and let to a restorer of classic cars, and work has started on another. Even closer to Mr Clive's heart is his scheme plan for commercial production of Meconopsis, the Himalayan poppy.

This normally flourishes 10,000ft above sea-level in places such as Nepal, and is notoriously difficult to grow from seed. But Mr Clive, who himself has the greenest of fingers, got some plants established in his own woodland garden, and has now set up a full-scale production unit.

In the words of John Edmonds, the horticultural consultant attached to the project, Meconopsis is "every gardener's dream", in that, once established, it will continue to flower for years. But he concedes it is difficult to grow, and after various experiments has come to the conclusion that "it doesn't like being watered from above". Hence his serried ranks of plastic pots, standing on sand and watered from below by a system of trickle irrigation which comes on seven times a day for 15 minutes.

Arrangements are already in hand to market the plants, which will cost up to pounds 8.99 apiece. But since at garden centres at least two-thirds of buys are made on impulse, Mr Edmonds is confident that the sky-blue flowers will sweep customers off their feet.

With all these developments designed to generate extra jobs and income, it may sound as if the Whitfield Estate is becoming industrialised. Far from it: the rolling woods and fields look the epitome of English landscape. The energetic manager of the home farm, Roger Lucken, keeps the land in immaculate order, and in the woods the head forester, Chris Jarvis, continues a tradition of timber-production some 500 years old.

Many innovations have been completely uncommercial: three new avenues have been planted, lakes have been dredged and restored, and a green lane has been created to link two areas of farmland. For this, part of one field was sacrificed to form a broad track some 300 yards long, flanked by double hedges. When these mature, the lane will act as a wildlife corridor.

It is nearly two centuries since the Clives acquired Whitfield. Who knows what England will look like in 2195? I am prepared to bet the estate will remain one of the jewels in Herefordshire's crown.

Comments