The Soil Association is the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. Its Land Trust exists to protect the countryside by acquiring and managing farmland sustainably; and to connect the public with the stewardship of the land.
– Four farms and one small field owned
– 14 farms pledged
– Four farmers working on our farms
– One community supported agriculture project involving around 200 local people.
The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of far-sighted individuals who were concerned about the health implications of increasingly intensive agricultural systems following the Second World War. The Soil Association started out on a farm in Suffolk to research and try to understand how the best of the old and new traditions in land husbandry could be combined. Out of this came the first organic standards in the UK. Today, the Soil Association has a membership base of 15,000 individuals and over 2,000 farmers and growers licensed as organic.
The Soil Association Land Trust was established in 2007 to protect the countryside by acquiring and managing farmland sustainably; and to connect the public with the stewardship of the land. At its start it took on four farms owned by another charity, the Land Heritage Trust whose origins date back to 1950. The pledge of another large estate, comprising 12 farms and associated residential and commercial properties was also key to the establishment of the Land Trust.
The Soil Association and the Soil Association Land Trust are registered charities and companies limited by guarantee. As a sister charity to the Soil Association, the Soil Association Land Trust is managed by an elected board of trustees, representing the Soil Association, the now defunct Land Heritage Trust and the pledged estate.
The Soil Association Land Trust holds farmland in trust. We currently own four small farms in the south west of England and a field in Scotland. Our farms are mainly occupied on long term farm business tenancies (one extending to a three generation tenancy).
– We promote public access to farms to connect people with the land and to inspire and educate them about food, farming and the countryside. This varies from farm to farm dependent on the site, activities and interests of the farmer but has included our support for diversification into tourism.
– We aim to provide opportunities for new farmers, growers and communities to work on the land. We have so far been able to support a young farmer and a community group (see below) to access our land. As and when our farms become available or we take on new land we hope to support more new entrants.
– We support our farmers and growers to develop sustainable businesses that are viable, survive and thrive in the modern world. We do this through developing good relationships with our farmers and through our parent body, the Soil Association’s producer support team, providing advice, resources, visits and sharing of information. Land Trust farms are often our first point of call when we are looking for farms to host Soil Association events.
– The Land Trust aims to provide a safe haven for retiring land owners and others looking to secure a future for their land, ensuring their life’s work is preserved. We have developed acquisition criteria to enable us to make robust decisions on whether or not accept land offers. High land prices in the UK currently rule out the option of buying land. We are also advising owners of pledged farms on their succession planning, helping them to find new farmers to take on their land.
Some farms in the network
– Summerhill Farm, Devon
Summerhill Farm is 37.6 ha of marginal land including a farmhouse and agricultural buildings. We offered a share-farming agreement to allow a young farmer to take on the farm with limited capital. The agreement recognised the assets (including stock and machinery) owned by the Land Trust and split the profits made on the farm, instead of charging rent. This enabled him to develop a viable and diverse business and we have now granted him a 24 year tenancy agreement with an innovative rent agreement again based on farm income.
– St Jerome’s Field, Scotland
We accepted the donation of a 3.2 ha field on the edge of a village that was being used for grazing horses. Since 2013 we have helped the local community to establish a group and set up a community growing project that is now growing and distributing its crops. The field has become a hub for the village and now attracts hundreds of people to its harvest festivals and other events.
The Soil Association runs a successful Future Growers programme training new entrants via farm-based apprenticeship schemes. It recently helped to establish a national CSA network, the first of its kind in the UK, bringing together in one place many different groups and organisations, support, advice and resources.
The Land Trust owns 374 acres (151 ha) with a further 2690 acres (1089 ha) of land pledged.
The greatest challenge is that the Land Trust was established through the donation of farms only, in other words with no capital to support them. The current size and nature of the Land Trust portfolio is weighted towards ownership of low income generating farms, some of which have old farm buildings requiring expensive repairs and maintenance. Although there are a number of farms pledged with greater income generation potential, these will not be formally incorporated for a number of years.
The extremely high value of land in the UK remains a significant barrier to either purchasing land or land being donated.
Recently, the Land Trust has embarked on a period of investment in renewable energy projects on its farms, three schemes of which are now operational. Not only will this investment help to support the sustainability of the farm businesses for its tenants but it will help provide income for the Trust.
Land owned by the Land Trust
• Summerhill Farm, Devon
• St Jerome’s Field, Scotland on facebook; see also ’Growing Together’, a presentation of the Field’s project origins and development, in the Soil Association magazine, Spring 2013 doc158|right
Presentations and short reports from Access to land events, organised by the Soil Association in 2013
South Plaza, Marlborough Street,
Bristol BS1 3NX
Land Trust Coordinator