26 Nov

Jez Ralph talks Forestry Futures in the Western Morning News

Director of Timber Strategies Jez Ralph also works for the DR Company as their Forestry Consultant. Writing in the Western Morning News last week he explored the importance of new tree planting for the UK, with a focus on ensuring the right trees are planted in the right place. The full article is below:

The Future of Forestry

Trees seem ubiquitous in our environment. Whether in deeply rural areas or in towns, trees are a key feature in virtually every panorama. It’s hard to believe that 100 years ago less than 5% of land was covered with trees; it’s even harder to believe that today still only 12% of land is tree covered. England is one of the least wooded countries in Europe … and one of the biggest consumers of wood.

Tree planting is once-again high on the agenda in government; in the recent budget an extra £50million was announced for new tree planting. Why is this? Why the fuss when we see trees every which way we turn? Well the lack of woodland in England is a big problem. It’s a big problem now and it’s an even bigger problem for future generations.

Trees provide a multitude of products and services to society, all of which we are increasingly going to rely on. In particular trees are the natural carbon sink. They sit, they photosynthesis, they absorb carbon, take it out of the atmosphere and store it. Whilst science investigates expensive ways to capture and store carbon, trees do it without us investing in much other than planting and nurturing them. And they do it incredibly efficiently.

The stored carbon we then use in the form of timber for buildings or furniture where it locks up the carbon for as long as the building exists or we use it to create renewable energy. Unlike other carbon-based sources of heat and energy we can carry on growing our fuel whilst also using it.

But it isn’t just about using the trees we grow. Trees in the ground provide a rich habitat for important biodiversity; they help provide cleaner water, prevent soil erosion and provide a place for health and leisure activities. Perhaps most importantly, in a mixed land-use system, they contribute to the healthy soils which will allow future generations to have a rural economy as rich as ours.

The problem is there just aren’t enough trees in the ground to achieve all of this. Because of this the DR Company has been working with Timber Strategies to look at how more woodland can be created. The work has shied away from broad policy or pronouncements of how good more trees would be but has concentrated on the nuts and bolts of tree planting. How much does it cost to put trees in the ground, how long to first income, what sort of returns are available per hectare per year are the kinds of questions being asked.

Gone are the days of the simple choice of conifer or broadleaf planting. More complex and resilient systems can now be joined up to create a matrix of planting for landowners. This includes the standard aims of producing high-forest but also faster, shorter systems of forestry that can give returns in 15 years as well as agroforestry systems, once the preserve of a small niche but now becoming a more broadly accepted and respected land use.

These new plantings, most of all, must be resilient in a time of change; changes in climate, changes in economics, changes in rural populations. All modelled, all unknown. With these changes comes increasing risk of disease, of storm damage, of market downturns, a risk of a lack of young entrants to work the future forests. The forests we plant now have to be adaptable to cope with these pressures but also hold the promise of being a rich future source of products and services for landowners.

The future forests that we plant now are likely to be much richer places. More varied species in more age-classes will protect owners from storm damage and give more extensive market options and protect against single-species disease devastating whole areas. This diversity will lead to a richer range of habitats that in turn will lead to a richer soil environment underneath. Forests will become more exciting, more dynamic and more diverse places to visit.

We will need to be open minded about these new plantings. Some will include what we term “native” species; some will be “native” but seed sourced from more southerly areas that replicate what we think our climate will be like in 50 years. But in a new and changing climate, do we even know what “native” means? Perhaps we should consider what species grow well and contribute to a rich biodiverse forest, not whether it was here in a different climate a thousand years ago. Much new planting will be species that are not yet common in the landscape, but that we expect to grow well in future climate models and expect to give a good return in products and services. New species and new models of planting such as agroforestry and short rotation crops will lead to a change in how the landscape looks.

In writing this I see the fear in farmers eyes of a wave of tree planting swallowing up good agricultural land but this is far from the case. Plenty of areas of marginal land exist where trees can grow well in poor conditions, where their planting can be an asset to the land-owner enhancing the productive cycle rather than impeding it. It is this balance of whole-farm and whole-landscape values that we must achieve.

By Jez Ralph
Forestry Consultant for The DR Company,
Director of Timber Strategies

29 Oct

Give Farmers the Opportunity to Help Widlife Thrive writes Pete Burgess

DR Director and Director of Conservation and Development at the Devon Wildlife Trust Pete Burgess wrote a fantastic piece published in the Western Morning News this week highlighting the importance of farmers being given the opportunity to help wildlife thrive, whatever Brexit and other governmental changes are afoot.

Read the whole article below:

Should there be butterflies in the Uplands?

Andrea Leadsom in a pre Brexit debate infamously stated it would “make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies”  since these comments were made seismic political events have occurred. The vote to leave the EU has and will continue to dominate activity at all levels for the foreseeable future. We are experiencing levels of uncertainty which render short and medium term business planning a treacherous exercise – especially if you are one of the 102,000 businesses that are within the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors.

Political spheres which are witnessing unrivalled activity are farming and the environment. In any one parliamentary term we may expect perhaps just one key piece of legislation that may broadly relate to the environment. But our environmental laws, regulations, policies and practices are so intimately bound within EU that we have witnessed more change in one year than one may reasonably expect in a generation – and we can expect more radical changes over the coming years.

The following papers and proposed policies have been or are soon to be launched:

• 25 Year Environment Plan
• The Agriculture Command Paper and Bill
• Changes to the National Planning Policy Framework
• Fisheries White Paper
• Consultation on 3rd tranche of MCZ
• The Environment Act

With this mind boggling rate of change there is a genuine risk of policy fatigue and potential complacency – it is crucial however that each change is given the diligent scrutiny that we would have given to just one in the pre-Bexit era.

Of all the proposed legislation the Agriculture Bill has the potential for triggering tumultuous change. Like it or loath it, it is clear that leaving the Common Agricultural Policy is not going to be easy. After all the CAP has shaped how farmers receive financial support from the taxpayer, for over 40 years. Farmers currently receive €4 billion of support each year. To its great credit, it has in recent years allocated some £460 million annually towards environmental stewardship. But this is only a meagre 12% of the funds. The remaining 88% is largely spent on the Single Farm Payment. Allocated on the basis of land owned, this subsidy has not sufficiently encouraged agricultural innovation nor the environmental enhancements so desperately needed.

Our farming systems which are intertwined with our environment, biodiversity, landscape, soil and water health and air quality, not to mention cultural identity rely on the Single Farm Payment. As I look outside of my window onto the fringes on Dartmoor none of the pasture based livestock farms make a profit on their farming activities (farming livestock in the uplands in fact makes a considerable loss) and are only able to keep afloat through diversification, the Single Payment Scheme and agri-envrionment support.

There will be many opportunities that arise when we break free from the CAP shackles. But what might it mean for farming and wildlife in Devon? Are we destined for farming in the more agriculturally productive lowland landscapes to become more intensive and for wildlife to retreat to the moors?

I hope the answer on everyone’s lips is “we sincerely hope not”!

Many moons ago I was lured away to the other end of the earth with tales of an environmental nirvana – otherwise known as New Zealand! What I saw in troubled me and forced me to rethink my connections with the land. On the one hand the country boasts pristine swathes of natural land, shaped by natural forces, which was stunning to witness. However on the other there are vast monocultures of grass, crops and plantations with little space for any wildlife, let alone public access, or many of the other public goods that land can provide us with. Much of these changes were driven by farming and forestry being decoupled from any public support – they were essential cut adrift and fully exposed to free market forces. I happily returned to Devon and saw our landscapes through a new lens.

Devon is a truly special County with a rich environment. Our cultural history is writ large across our land from, for example, our field boundaries which can date back millennia. Our wildlife is intertwined within these farmed landscapes and it can remain that way, whilst being set firmly on the path of recovery. Organisations such as the Devon Wildlife Trust and the DR Company are ideally situated to support the businesses, communities and people who work on, care for and are integral to our rural landscape.

I’m looking forward to a future where butterflies, in fact all wildlife thrives, irrespective of whether it is in the lowlands, uplands, small or big fields! We must challenge the government to provide sufficient funds to ensure farms are able to invest in crucial resources, healthy soils, clean water and air, and to work with the grain of nature providing ample space for natural processes and our treasured wildlife.

By Peter Burgess
Director of the DR Company

Director of Conservation and Development
Devon Wildlife Trust
https://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/ 

27 Sep

Liz Abell writes about Quality Standards in the Food and Drink Industry

 

This month is Organic September, a UK awareness campaign organised by the Soil Association to encourage more of us to buy organic. Organic produce can be easily spotted in many supermarkets by The Green Leaf logo on packaging, and is among many labels that indicate a product that is in some way better for us, our community, or our environment. Have you ever wondered though why fresh produce in supermarkets displays a range of quality logos, but equivalent produce in your local farm shop, greengrocer and butcher often does not? Many of us want to make good choices when it comes to how and where our food and drink is produced. Many of us want to ensure the food we eat is of high quality and is produced in a way that looks after the welfare of animals, protects the environment and supports British farming. So how can we be sure we do that?

The multitude of different logos and standards that have been introduced can be a great help. However, understanding what we are looking at can be complex. For example to be classed as organic, and to be able to display the Green Leaf logo, all food and drink sold in the European Union needs to meet with stringent EU regulations. Food and drink carrying the Soil Association logo, in addition to the Green Leaf label, are guaranteed to meet not only the EU organic regulations but also the highest possible standards of animal welfare, environmental and wildlife protection as outlined by the Soil Association. This is just two in a wide range of quality standards to choose from. The Love British Food website has a simple guide to the common logos and labels and what they mean http://www.lovebritishfood.co.uk/british-food-and-drink/logos-and-marks-to-look-for.

However, while buying according to logos and labels is one way to make your purchases, what about all the small producers who have either not had the money or time to get accredited with certain schemes, or who simply do what they do without being formally recognised for it? We at the DR Company help hundreds of small, rural businesses to either set up or grow, and many of those businesses produce food or drink. We are always impressed by how many of those businesses make active choices to source products that are local, British, organic, sustainable and environmentally friendly. And they aren’t making those decisions purely because of market demand, or to be able to display a logo, they are making them because it makes good business sense, offers their customers high quality produce, contributes to their local community and ultimately because they care.

Take the Taw Valley Brewery. Marc Whiteside and his partner moved their young family from Brighton to the Taw Valley in August 2016. Escaping City jobs and urban life for a rural change of scene, they bought a Grade II listed Tudor thatched property with outbuildings. Wanting to start a business from his long term hobby of home brewing, Marc decided to use the 16th century thatched threshing barn on site to set up and the DR Company successfully helped him to apply for funding to start the business.

Marc uses locally sourced and sustainably produced products wherever possible and the brewery thrives on reusing and recycling. The property has its own well, which supplies the brewery with fresh Taw Valley spring water year round; all spent grain is recycled as feed for neighbouring farmers; liquid waste from the brewing process is channelled from the barn to feed a custom created reed bed which filters and thrives on the waste; the grain the brewery uses is from nearby Crediton. Taw Valley Brewery bottles and casks are sold to local pubs, shops and bars within a 15 mile radius and returned bottles and casks are recycled, re-used and re-purposed.

This business supports and contributes to its local economy. It benefits the local community. It uses products and processes that are sustainable and self supporting. It buys from and sells to the local area. It uses good quality supplies that can be traced without difficulty. Ask Marc and he will tell you all about the product you are buying. Marc has his own quality assurances, and his own sustainable accreditations purely from being passionate about what he does and how he does it. You can read more about the Taw Valley Brewery on the DR website www.drcompany.co.uk or Marc’s website https://www.tawvalleybrewery.com/

As consumers, it is our choice what we consume. Logos and labels enable the consumer to purchase an item knowing that someone else has formally acknowledged the product’s benefits. That is a great start. However there are a multitude of other places to buy high quality produce that don’t display a quality logo. The key is to ask. If you want to know more, if something isn’t clear, ask. Whether you buy from supermarkets, farmers markets or the local shop, Organic September is a reminder to us all that the key to ‘good’ buying is knowing where your food and drink comes from, how it was produced and what process took it from a farmers field to your shopping basket. Whether a logo or the farmer themselves tells you, asking the question is the key to supporting sustainable, quality, local produce.

By Liz Abell, Managing Director of the DR Company

This article was featured in the Issue column of the Western Morning News on Thursday 27th September 2018

16 Aug

Harvesting Opportunity Despite Dry Times writes DR Director David Gibson

In the recent run of hot weather the volatile nature of land based rural businesses became very apparent. Weather conditions, disease, stock prices and many other factors directly affect the profitability of these businesses and can make the reliability of a steady and profitable income unpredictable. How can rural land based businesses create a stable and sustainable income for themselves that complements their core activity while at the same time offering a more predictable source of income? One tried and tested option is for land based businesses like farms and country estates to diversify into tourist enterprises.

As the tourist high season begins in earnest the large Devon attractions like Crealy, the Milky Way and the Big Sheep will see thousands of customers through their doors in the coming months. Tourism is big business for the South West and a vital part of the region’s economy. According to the International Passenger Survey data the tourism economy in the greater South West was worth almost £11bn in 2014 representing nearly 11% of the UK’s tourism economy. Tourism also employs almost 200,000 people across the region. (http://www.tourismalliance.com/downloads/TA_395_420.pdf).

According to the Heart of the South West LEP report 2017, across the four South West LEP areas, rural local authority areas accounted for 58% of all economic output and 60% of all workforce jobs, a much higher proportion than elsewhere in England. However, being a rural land owner in 2018 is a challenging prospect often requiring lateral and entrepreneurial thinking. Schemes such as Countryside Stewardship and Woodland Grants are offering the opportunity to support income that is made from land. However rural land owners can also benefit from looking into alternative, and less volatile, income streams to add an additional means of making money and to ensure the viability of their business.

For many rural land based businesses in the South West and beyond, diversifying all or part of the business into tourist activities, particularly those with an ecological/ environmental agenda proves a logical and profitable use of the land. Small farm based attractions such as maize mazes, high rope courses, mountain bike trails, segway safaris, cycle hire, children’s petting farms, family farm experiences, pony/horse trekking, holiday accommodation (cottages/glamping/camping, etc), Airsoft/Paintball have all been demonstrated as viable ways for a farm or country estate to diversify their incomes. Food and Drink manufacture and supply has also been wholeheartedly embraced by many rural landowners, particularly those who tap into the organic, local, and sustainable markets. All these options not only provide add-on income streams for a rural landowner, but they also enable the business to benefit from being a part of, and contribute to, the booming tourism economy of the South West region.

But how easy is it in reality to diversify a rural land based business into a tourist activity? Coming up with a sound, realistic and achievable idea is just the first step. Once work begins the financial and time investment can be overwhelming for rural businesses, who are largely micro or small enterprises with only a handful of key people running the business or self-employed sole traders. With the right support though, and once successfully implemented, these diversifications and additional income streams mean businesses can grow in size to bring in further revenue to the local economy and ensuring more employment, even encouraging young people to stay or move into

rural areas of the South West. Importantly too, a more profitable business is a business that has durability and sustainability, ensuring jobs and incomes for the owners and employees.

So how can rural land based businesses manage to diversify? Some businesses do it independently, while some choose to get help from specialist companies (like the DR Company for whom I am a Director) to find and access funding which will enable them to grow and develop new income streams. The DR Company has worked with many different businesses who have come up with a wide range of inventive and enterprising tourist-oriented diversifications to their land based staple work.

Hunts Cider in South Devon grow apples on the farm for use to make their branded and award winning cider which complements and adds to the original and still running farm business. Hunt’s opens its doors in the summer months for tours of the cider making facilities and to browse in the onsite shop. The ciders are organic and gluten free/vegan appealing to the ever growing market of sustainable and health conscious customers. Dartington Dairy now offer not only goat milking experiences and farmer for a day packages but even goat yoga.

These businesses and many more like them are supported by the DR Company (www.drcompany.co.uk), and other organisations like them, which has enabled them to branch out, build up and ultimately blossom. We need to encourage rural land based businesses to seek advice, signpost them to the support available and continue to offer financial and intellectual assistance. Practical advice on business planning, access to funding, and experienced support are what help small rural businesses diversify and develop. The more help they receive, and the more help they are aware they can receive, the more productive and profitable those businesses will become and in doing this they will contribute to an improved local economy, will encourage workers and will entice tourists to the region.

By Dave Gibson
The DR Company
DRG Consulting Ltd

 

 

28 Jun

Mary Talbot-Rosevear on Future Proofing Devon’s Family Farms

Today in the Western Morning News DR Director Mary Talbot-Rosevear discusses the critical issue of future proofing family farming in Devon and the South West. Mary cites  examples of family farms that the DR Company have supported to diversify or expand in order to secure a future for the next generation. Below is the text of the article. To read more about the examples used go to http://drcompany.co.uk/south-devon-coastal-lag-success-stories/ and http://drcompany.co.uk/rural-wedding-venue-uses-funds-from-gdleaf/ 

Future Proofing Devon’s Family Farms
Planning for the future to ensure the family farm can be a viable and profitable business for this and the next generation is a key area of concern for many farming families. With changes in farming techniques, technologies, skillsets and earnings, there are a host of reasons behind some family farms being sold or disbanded. How can these businesses plan in changing times to provide this and future generations with the incentive to farm?

The first challenge is to ensure the family farm is a profitable business in the here and now. It is frequently the case that the type or quantity of farming that was once sustainable now needs to be supplemented either by diversification, improved methods, increased productivity or simply a complete change of tack. Farmers have in recent years proved themselves adept at changing with the times and Devon has many glowing examples of entrepreneurial success and forward thinking ingenuity. Two examples that the DR Company have supported, are Hunts Cider and Ashridge Court Farm. Hunts Cider is run by brother and sister Richard and Annette Hunt who have turned their generations old farm-based small cider making business into a well-known and award winning brand. Ashridge Court, a farm purchased recently by two generations of one family, expanded the diversification side of the business into a rural and bespoke venue for weddings and events by converting their medieval barn.

Diversification is one way of securing a healthy business for the current and future generations of a family farm, but what if the family want to remain focused within the agricultural sector? Government schemes, funding and private support is available to strengthen and improve their business. From Countryside Stewardship to funds such as the Countryside Productivity Small Grants Scheme, farmers are aware of and using investment channels. This doesn’t come without its challenges: increasingly anyone looking to apply for funding of any sort need to do so using online methods, resulting in the need for fast broadband, IT skills and compliance with regulations. Despite this, the current generation of farmers are generally embracing the contemporary methods for building successful agricultural businesses.

Once a family farm is successfully producing earnings for the current generation, the next generation can and should be considered. Attracting young people into a career in farming is a constant challenge in a world that offers many other options to those either born or not born into farming. How can we attract the next generation into agriculture? A successful and profitable business which embraces change, encourages ideas from the next generation, with fair remuneration is a good and persuasive start. Agricultural Colleges are offering more and more breadth to their courses, opening up agriculture as a career which can include the application of additional skills including finance, engineering, and marketing to name but a few.

A working example of this can be seen in R&P Farming where the family have been running a successful arable farm near Dawlish for over 20 years. Brothers Matt and Rob Cotton, both agricultural college graduates, transitioned straight from education into the family business. Using their skills they realised that mixed farming would offer increased resilience and better productivity, so the brothers started rearing cattle alongside the already established arable business. With help from some funding from the South Devon Coastal Local Action Group, a locally managed EU funding programme, they bought new equipment to achieve their goals for the family farm.

On his Dartmoor beef and arable farm, Julian Courtier is another farmer with two sons keen to work as part of the family farm. Needing to be assured of profitable careers if they did so, Julian and his family decided, in 2016, to make a big investment into the business he has farmed since 1957. Expanding his beef and arable farm into dairy was a major undertaking, but one which he undertook to ensure employment for his children and a bright future for the business. Having secured investment for the farm privately, Julian also secured part funding from the Greater Dartmoor LEAF programme, another locally managed EU funding programme, to help him develop an energy efficient, contemporary dairy farm alongside his existing mixed farm and B&B business. Updating the farm and expanding it has meant Julian’s sons have felt included in the farm’s future and enthused to be a part of a modernised and forward-thinking business.

Keeping the family in a ‘family’ farm is no simple prospect for the modern generation, but as we can see there are those who have found ways to achieve it. Attracting the next generation to agriculture is vital and can be achieved by having strong businesses, good family communication and planning, as well as wide ranging, relevant education. Access to funding and support for farmers to enable them to expand, develop and diversify their farms is vital. Imperative is that we encourage enthusiasm, enable decision making and entrepreneurial spirit and foster a passion for agriculture.

Visit the DR website to read in detail about the examples mentioned in this article http://drcompany.co.uk/south-devon-coastal-lag-success-stories/
http://drcompany.co.uk/gd-leaf-success-stories/

By Mary Talbot- Rosevear
Director of the DR Company and member of the Small Farms Association and a partner in the family accountancy and legal practice based in South Devon

04 Jun

Rural Wedding Venue uses Funds from GDLEAF

 

Dartmoor Wedding Venue Ashridge Court celebrates and supports Rural Devon at its best with the help of GDLEAF funding

Couples who choose Ashridge Court Farm on the edge of Dartmoor for their wedding reception have options very few venues can offer. Whether it’s riding on horseback from a country church to the wedding breakfast, exclusive access to a 500 year old renovated barn, or photos in the sustainably managed wild woodland on site there is something at Ashridge for every couple who has an affinity for rural Devon at its best.

Five years ago mother and daughter team Cat Richards-Kastelic and Carolyn Richards decided to diversify their family farm by converting their medieval cattle barn into a rustic venue for weddings and events. Sensitive to its history and original architecture, they ensured that the character and essence of the barn remained while giving it some new Ashridge-style features. The main area of the Great Barn has split level flooring and a dance floor, beyond which is a separate quiet room complete with sofas and armchairs for cosy conversations away from the main music and event. At the other end of the barn lie the accessible toilets that are so striking they have been included in bridal couples’ official wedding photos. Hanging from the ceiling are metal chandeliers created by the family from the hoops of barrels found on the farm. Every nook and cranny of this beautiful venue is steeped in history and individualism.

This individualism is carried through to the total autonomy given to clients over who they hire in for catering, entertainment, even furniture. Ashridge can make recommendations for every part of a wedding or event, but they are as happy to let the clients choose and arrange their way to whatever constitutes their perfect day without interference or bias towards specific suppliers. Not only does this allow for bespoke weddings and events, it also encourages investment back into the local economy, as Cat explains,

“We aim to host 15 weddings a year in the Ashridge Great Barn, we have really enjoyed meeting the amazing array of talented suppliers here in the South West and look forward to recommending them to couples in the future. We also enjoyed organising our very successful Christmas Fayre, where we were delighted to showcase local small businesses. We are excited to build on this experience by also putting on a Country Fair in the summer when we will also be holding a dog show to raise money for the Guide Dogs. Running a broad range of private and public events at the Ashridge Great Barn will allow us to share our beautiful venue and setting with the local community as well as those from further ‘up country’!”

The wedding party or event guests can stay at a number of hotels, B&Bs and holiday chalets within easy reach of the venue and, on site ready for next season, Ashridge are building a honeymoon cottage within walking distance of the Great Barn. Three churches serve the parish within a short drive or a country walk from Ashridge. How many wedding’s have invitations that might include the words ‘bring wellies for the walk from the church to the reception’? The venue is open 9 months of the year between April and December, as bad weather would make access to Ashridge unreliable, but in good weather makes for an idyllic peaceful and rural escape.

There are plenty of opportunities for stunning photos from the walled kitchen garden, to the rolling Dartmoor landscape, the large lakes, the fields, the woodland and the Great Barn itself this is a photographers dream. There is even a peacock, and a gaggle of Canada geese to accompany the many sheep and cattle in the fields around the farm. There is an onsite large catering kitchen within a few metres of the barn, and space to the side of the Great Barn complete with fire pit and room for hogroasts and bbqs.

The deliberately rustic feel to Ashridge has been created through hard work, careful planning and financial and time commitment. While the barn conversion was paid for privately local support and funding also helped the business get off the ground. The DR Company based in Okehampton provided business support and helped them access funding via a LEADER grant.

“ We are so excited to be able to offer this venue to people who love the outdoors and rural Devon. It has been a long process getting change of use and planning permission, sympathetically renovating the barn and deciding what was important to us to be able to provide for our clients. We have put a lot of thought, and money, into getting this venue right. “ explains Cat. “We were very lucky to be able to successfully apply for some funding to help us do the work we needed to. I don’t know what we would have done without the help of the DR Company who helped us with business planning and the funding application for a Greater Dartmoor LEAF grant. It helped turn our ideas into reality and enabled us to turn a run down barn into a really special venue that we are incredibly proud of.”

This family business is a shining example of how a rural business can both be supported by and at the same time itself support the local economy. By working with Devon based businesses they have managed to gain and give support, to create a sustainable, diversified family business that can provide clients with a celebration of the very best rural Devon can offer.

GDLEAF (The Greater Dartmoor Local Enterprise Action Fund) is now closed to applications, but the DR Company can help you find and apply to other relevant funding programmes. Contact the office via admin@drcompany.co.uk or visit the main website www.drcompany.co.uk  

To find out more about Ashridge Court and to book the venue visit www.ashridge-court.co.uk   or ring 01837 352025.

25 May

Changing Times for Rural Devon says Philip Wagstaff

In the Western Morning News, DR Director Rev. Philip Wagstaff writes about how rural Devon is responding to changing times.

Whilst most of the population in the United Kingdom live in large towns and cities it is vital that Government, local authorities and the UKs industries remember that a significant number of people live and work in the countryside. According to the Office of National Statistics 18% of the adult population in the UK live in the countryside. Devon is notably rural – as Devon County Council’s Overview of Devon notes “Devon is the seventh most sparsely populated county, with few large settlements and a dispersed rural population, covering two national parks.” Communities large and small, urban and rural, are affected by national, regional and local policy making which has an impact on different communities in different ways. It is within their local framework that communities work, a framework which has changed over the years as communities have changed over time. However the fortunes of the countryside have always also been dependent on external factors and this will remain the case. So how is rural Devon responding to changing times?

Within the South West, farming and its associated industries have provided both financial and social stability. Farming is changing. Due to the topography of the South West that change is not as rapid as it has been in other parts of the country, for example, in East Anglia, where there are more options for farmers. Agricultural practice in rural areas has been affected by declining numbers in farm workforces, changes in farm incomes, increasing paperwork and diversification. These changes are carving out a new landscape. Farm incomes in the South West are challenging and it is increasingly difficult to attract the next generation into working the family farms. However, there are positive signs that young people remain engaged with, and interested in farming, as demonstrated by the thriving South West Young Farmers’ Clubs. The farming sector remains a large part of the economy of the South West and its fortunes have an impact on the way that the rural economy works.

Also facing the challenge of change in rural areas are the market towns who have had to explore ways of developing their ‘brand’ to compete in an era that has seen consumers favouring supermarkets, online shopping and products out of season. In addition, the auction markets have become less in number and have become more centralised and with those changes one of the reasons for the Market Town’s existence has disappeared. That, combined with the changes in shopping patterns (both locally and on line) has meant that many market towns are struggling to attract traders and shoppers. This is a challenge to local politicians, community development workers and residents alike. Numerous Market Towns are looking at how they can ‘rebrand’ themselves as they face these challenges. Many Market towns in the region are exploring ways that their town can engage with its community, its commerce and its visitors and develop for the future.

There are a plethora of villages which have slowly lost their local services, as community spaces such as pubs, shops and chapels closed and transport links were severely restricted. There are emerging now though many enterprising schemes which are bringing services back into communities. The community buildings which remain are being used in different ways, community shops are being opened, community centres, village halls and church buildings are being upgraded with new facilities being added and entrepreneurs both social and economic are continuing to have a positive impact on village life.

Many of these businesses remain small businesses but they are enhanced by the provision of external funding which together with other sources of income provide for development of small scale enterprises. This is among what the South West does well but such development needs appropriate direction and funding to facilitate and support increased employment and community development opportunities. This is part of the mix of large and small employment opportunities supported by many councils and agencies across the region.

We know the fortunes of the countryside have always been dependent on external factors and this will remain the case. There is however an increasing development of small micro business in rural areas, which together with an entrepreneurial spirit has brought about a reassessment of the economic resource that is available within our rural communities. To support and enable these businesses organisations like the DR Company can help to assess those ideas to look at their viability and opportunity and new forms of business practice and social entrepreneurship can emerge.

Through the years I have seen the way that the DR Company supports the development of rural business, forestry and farming through fund and project management, business advice, research and through monitoring and evaluation which have had a positive impact on businesses and the wider community. This is why I have actively supported the work of DR (www.drcompany.co.uk) and will continue to do so in the future.

Rural market towns, villages and hamlets in the region seek a positive, creative and responsive commercial, financial and political base to bring about the best opportunities for local development and growth. There are different models for this which communities are exploring. Perhaps a model for community growth which is people centred, which seeks to be sustainable and which is developed in the light of the opportunities that a community has, is one that should be encouraged.

Rev Philip Wagstaff
Director, The DR Company

26 Apr

Small businesses can reap big rewards from tiny pots of investment – writes DR’s Liz Abell

Tiny pots of investment make a big difference to small businesses, writes DR’s Liz Abell

Do we have to throw large pots of funding at small businesses in the South West to make a significant difference? We at the DR Company have recent experience to evidence that this is absolutely not the case but it is a common misconception that is affecting the progress of our local economy. We recently saw that just £43,013 funding helped 13 small businesses to start up, grow and create 18 new jobs. Sadly fewer and fewer funding programmes are targeted at these businesses, instead focusing on large investments in large businesses.

I have been Managing Director of The DR Company since 2009. We provide bid writing and business support to rural businesses as well as helping to deliver large scale funding programmes for rural communities. What has become clear to us is that small businesses very often need relatively tiny amounts of investment to get them started or help them grow. This is a frequently missed opportunity to boost our economy.

According to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, at the start of 2017 small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses, between them accounting for 51% of all private sector turnover in the UK. In the South West alone there are over 70,000 businesses with between 1 and 4 employees. Over 7000 of them are in the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry sectors. As the figures demonstrate, ensuring small businesses can thrive is a vital part of the South West and UK economy.

The positive impact a small amount of funding can make was demonstrated when the DR Company ran the South Devon Fishing Industry Small Grants Fund. This was developed as part of our larger Coastal Communities Fund (CCF) partnership project to develop the seafood industry in South Devon. The small grants were for businesses working in the fishing industry in the South Devon area (from Torbay to Plymouth).

The grants awarded were between £501 and £5,000. In total £43,013 was granted to 13 businesses, 11 of them new start-ups, each of whom had great ideas to grow and become more profitable. The most remarkable outcome of this fund was the demonstration of how small amounts of investment can make a big difference to small businesses. The latest figures show that from the 13 businesses granted money, 18 jobs were created and 11 new businesses started directly as a result of this investment. That’s one job created for every £2,389 of investment, a fantastic rate of return.

So why did such small amounts of funding help these fishing businesses so considerably? Two examples of beneficiaries to the grants give us a clearer picture:
Frazer Pugh started his Hand Picked Scallop Company in Brixham diving for scallops from the seabed in South Devon and selling them locally. Frazer used his funding to buy his start up basics – a license for his boat The Shearwater, and some essential equipment for the boat:

“The grant was perfect for a startup business like mine, it’s an expensive time kitting yourself out from scratch”.

Frazer’s business has gone on to create 4 new full time jobs and is a thriving local fishing business. In the process of buying a new upgraded boat, Baloo, the results of the funding and Frazer’s hard work and passion for the business has reaped long lasting rewards.

Another example is Mark Taylor, based in Hope Cove. He spent over £30,000 setting up his part time fishing business supplying locally caught fish to restaurants and pubs in the area. Having purchased a new boat, the Minnehaha II, from his own resources he then received a grant of just over £4,000 from the South Devon Fishing Industry Development fund to assist with the purchase of extra equipment for the boat.

‘The funding allowed me to purchase 60 more lobster pots, plus nets, and a net hauler. It meant that I could use the profits from my first year in business to buy the next year’s pots and equipment.’

These two examples (more of which can be read on the DR website drcompany.co.uk/south-devon-fishing-industry-development-initiative/ and the overall successes of the fund show that a small investment can make a big difference for businesses in meeting the costs of setting up and growing. This principle doesn’t only apply to small fishing businesses. Small rural businesses of all types often tread a very thin line between surviving and thriving. Small amounts of financial assistance can enable the purchase of those bits of equipment or tools that would otherwise have not been within the budget of a small business. These purchases save time or labour and improve efficiency taking the chance of a business succeeding from possible to likely.

As Brexit is negotiated it is vital that small businesses are prominent in the discussions and it is valuable to be able to demonstrate that they need not have vast sums of funding available to them for a significant impact to be made. Based on the recent results in South Devon, an investment of only £1.2m could create as many as 500 much needed jobs in the area. The conclusion is simple: small businesses in the South West don’t have to have large pots of funding to make a significant difference to their chances of success.

Liz Abell
Managing Director, The DR Company

The was established by the Department of Communities and Local Government and delivered through the Big Lottery. The DR Company are an independent, not for profit organisation who provide friendly, impartial, expert services to support rural projects and businesses. The DR Company develops and delivers funding and also offers a comprehensive range of project services covering business/project planning and bid writing right the way through to project management, and including monitoring and evaluation of complete projects.

 

22 Mar

DR Director David Incoll on Rural Broadband

 

David Incoll

 

DR Director David Incoll explains the ins and outs of the reality for Devon’s businesses accessing broadband at superfast speeds, in his article posted in the Western Morning News today. See below for the text of the article:

 

 

Rural Devon versus urban Devon: broadband speed and its effect on business competitiveness

For businesses, access to sufficiently fast broadband speeds is a vital aspect of their everyday functioning. Urban areas invariably have access to fast or superfast broadband speeds but for many in rural areas of the UK, broadband is very slow or simply not available. “17% of premises in the UK’s rural areas cannot receive decent broadband services, compared to just 2% in urban areas” reported the OfCom annual Connected Nations Report in December 2017. Devon is particularly affected by this because, as the Devon County Strategy for Growth 2013-2020 recognises, Devon is “overwhelmingly rural.”

There are many businesses in these rural areas of Devon working in industries and markets that increasingly demand every aspect of the business to be conducted online. From tax returns to customer communication, product marketing to online-only funding applications, rural businesses who don’t have sufficient broadband speed to perform vital online business activities are at a significant disadvantage to their urban competitors.

Those working in rural industries often operate from remote or topographically challenging locations. The tourism sector in particular is highly competitive and electronic access to customers and online booking facilities are essential for the businesses to succeed. These industries make up a large percentage of Devon’s economy and so significant is the broadband issue that businesses in areas with poor or no broadband access often cannot make the investment decisions that they wish to.

It is important to remember that broadband speed is not just a concern for businesses in the isolated areas of Devon’s Moors and coasts. In my home village of Aylesbeare just by Exeter Airport the broadband speed stands at 0.7Mbit/s in contrast to parts of Exeter which have superfast broadband starting at around 17Mbit/s. The DR Company, for whom I am a Director, has their office on the Okehampton Business Centre. While they have faster broadband than many, it’s speed is not adequate for the many businesses who work from it and for the type of work they do. The DR Company are specialists in helping rural businesses find and access funding. They apply for funding for their clients and they manage large funding programmes, all of which is done on the internet and requires fast upload and download speeds.

So what is being done to help? In December 2017, the Government agreed a Universal Service Obligation (USO) which will mean every premises in the UK will have the right to request a ‘decent’ broadband speed by 2020. While this sounds like a solution to everyone’s problems, is it really? The Government’s ‘decent’ broadband speed is defined as a service that is “capable of delivering a download speed of at least 10Mbits/s and an upload speed of at least 1Mbit/s.” This has been designed to help OfCom’s estimated 4% of premises (around 1.1 million) in the UK who are currently not able to access even this level of broadband service and “reflects the growing importance to people and businesses of services….which need good upload, as well as download, speeds.” For many, like the DR Company, the ‘decent’ speed, is simply not fast enough.

Up until November 2016 a Government funded voucher scheme for Devon was available to help those premises who are so remote that they would not even be able to receive ‘decent’ broadband access. A successor to this scheme was announced on 15th March this year. The Nationwide Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) will provide vouchers worth up to £3000 for a small or medium sized business or £500 to residents to help with the costs of connecting to full fibre broadband. However, rural residents can only benefit from the voucher scheme as part of a local community group scheme, which must also include small businesses. The HM treasury report states “ Businesses and residents can get vouchers from suppliers who are registered with the scheme. Vouchers may only be used to support the cost of eligible connections.” It is also worth bearing in mind that this is only available in participating areas and in some cases the cost of installation may be greater than the value of the vouchers available.

Are there alternatives? In a ground breaking move the Church of England last month announced it would allow church spires across the UK to be used as a digital connectivity boost in rural areas. Also there are companies, such as Bush Broadband, who can provide internet connections of 15-30Mbit/s by using small radios which can transmit broadband signals over several kilometres enabling remote premises to have access to broadband using a radio network. Remember though, these suppliers will need to be signed up to the new voucher scheme, or something similar, for connection to be subsidised.

In short, it seems that finding access to superfast broadband in rural areas is not a simple procedure. In this rural county, Devon’s businesses who cannot access sufficiently fast broadband to enable them to work competitively in their chosen industries are facing navigating their way through a complex system to be able to achieve parity with their urban competitors. To secure the competitiveness of the county’s rural economy it is vital that all businesses and residents are able to access superfast broadband, not just ‘decent’ broadband and at a price that is affordable. While changes are happening ,it is unclear when and if a “fit for purpose” access to superfast broadband will be achieved across Devon.

By David Incoll
Director of the DR Company
Chair Citizens Advice Devon

08 Mar

Funding helps buy vital equipment for farm expansion

Read our latest case study about Julian Courtier and Sons at Gooseford Farm in Whiddon Down, Devon. They applied for funding with help from the DR Company and received £24k from the South Devon Coastal LAG fund towards the set up of a dairy element to their existing mixed beef and arable farm. The expansion has ensured the employment of both Julian Courtiers sons in the family business and has boosted the local economy with their contract with Crediton Dairy.

Read how they’ve done it here