THE management and viability of an estate on the Solway Estuary in North Cumbria while safeguarding important environmental habitats has seen a dramatic turn-around since James Marshall began working for the Mounsey-Heysham family 13 years ago.

During this time, the focus has been on managing the 4,600-acre Castletown Estate’s internationally important environmental habitats and improving the farm’s self-sufficiency and sustainability through diverse enterprises.

Managing the environmental diversity of the estate was rewarded with the 2018 Silver Lapwing Award and the Yorkshire Agriculture Society’s Tye Trophy in 2017.

James was employed in October 2006 as estate foreman by Giles and Penelope Mounsey-Heysham at Rockcliffe, north of Carlisle, and he quickly saw the potential to build on the agricultural business for the family as well as work to safeguard the remarkable environment on the River Esk and Solway Firth.

James is now farm and estate manager for the livestock and arable enterprises which are run as two separate Limited Liability Partnerships - Armeria and Castletown Trust, with Giles and Penelope’s son Toby taking over in 2019.

“When I came to the estate very little of it was farmed in-hand and I could see the potential to run a diverse farming operation as well as safeguard the valuable environment,” said James.

“The Mounsey-Heyshams have given me a great opportunity to establish a viable farming system with them.”

Running at a maximum of 11 metres above sea level, the estate’s 3,085 acres of permanent pasture includes 2,800 acres of SSSI salt marsh.

This open area was grazed in ‘stints’ - grazing rights based on a number of animals – all let to other farmers until 2011, but has since been grazed mostly in hand by the estate’s cattle.

In 2006 not much of the land was farmed in-hand and it carried a flock of 1,000 ewes, with the remainder of the land down to arable production under a contract arrangement.

The breeding sheep have been retained and now the 1,250 ewes are Mules, along with home-bred Texels with a small number of Romneys.

Finished lamb, primarily three-quarter Texel, is sold deadweight to Marks & Spencer as Salt Marsh Lamb, with some selling locally,

A spring-calving suckler herd was re-established in 2010 as part of the HLS grazing agreement and numbers have been gradually built up to 90 cows using either home-bred replacements or bought in registered Galloway cattle. The cows are run with a Beef Shorthorn bull, a Hereford and an Aberdeen Angus.

Numbers of mainly native-bred cattle finished off the farm have been increased each year, with 1,300 expected to be finished this year.

These are bought in bullocks and heifers as well as calves from the suckler herd.

In a huge, controlled operation because of the vast amount of unfenced land, the store cattle are turned out onto the marsh in May. The cattle are housed for finishing.

Parts of the estate have been in Higher Level Stewardship and Entry Level Stewardship for more than ten years. More recently the saltmarsh is in Higher Tier Stewardship. Areas of woodland are also managed and enhanced for conservation and grazed by the cattle.

The marsh is a SSSI and it is a nationally important site for wading breeding birds.

There is also a close relationship with Cumbria Wildlife Trust, which provides a warden for the marsh.

As many as 40,000 Barnacle geese winter on the Solway also large numbers of Pinkfoot and Greylag geese. The Barnacle geese also come into the fields before they migrate in May, which does cause some increased grazing pressure. The marsh is home to a large number of breeding waders including lapwing, redshank and oyster catchers.

The estate has worked closely with Natural England for many years, collaborating closely with the organisation on the Coastal Path route section between Allonby and Gretna.

Another successful development has been working with local dairy farmers to improve their production by growing grass for silage and crops. There are 410 acres of temporary grass cutting silage mix, of which 250 acres supplies the dairy herds and 150 acres of maize grown under plastic, principally for these neighbouring farmers.

The estate has a further 270 acres of spring barley, 85 acres of winter barley, 160 acres of spring beans and12 acres of fodder beet. All the barley is crimped or whole cropped for the finishing cattle.

The farm now employs five full-time people, including James and shepherd of 23 years Rob Tweddell who retires later this year, along with two stockmen, a tractorman and farm foreman Ben Mortinson

For the future, James hopes the current crisis with the coronavirus epidemic will place greater emphasis on the importance of home-produced food produced in a sustainable and profitable way.

A future without direct support payments in the next few years will also be a challenge in the estate’s management, he says.

Scotsman James studied for an HND in agriculture at Auchincruive College, Ayr, and then was involved with sales for the family’s agricultural merchant’s business for a number of years after his father became terminally ill.

Unfortunately he was not allowed to take over the tenanted farm they had at this time although he still continued running livestock of his own.

Prior to joining Castletown he held a number of roles within the industry, including as an animal health officer for Dumfries and Galloway Council and self-employed farm work.

Home for James and his family is north of the border at Hightae near Lochmaben, where he is chairman of the local community council.

His wife Aileen works for ScotGov in administration and is from a Jedburgh farming family. They have two sons, Tom, 15, and Charlie, 12.