FHIPPS - Ecological Enemies - Land Management at Clandon Park


Clandon Park

Gone are the days when any old fertiliser was spread on agricultural land  without sparing a thought for potential adverse impact on the ecology or  habitats that coexisted on the same or neighbouring land. Now there are also laws that have been recently passed to protect against the risk of runoff that might pollute waterbodies and other important habitats. The Onslow family follow  organic management within their Clandon Park management protocols. This ensures that the land management at Clandon Park is not subservient to any grant incentive to increase grass production beyond that  which the land can naturally nurture. 

No matter what the Law prescribes, we at Clandon Park are forever vigilant, particularly as water reaches our lakes after having travelled many miles through, under or close by neighbouring farms and properties. Water testing is therefore an important priority at Clandon Park, because pollutants could arrive undetected via this water course. 

Of course all the land at Clandon Park has, at some time, been ploughed, planted, harvested, mown, reseeded and fertilised, many times over, in the last three hundred years. Even now every  land management advisor, who sets foot on our land, has a different view as to how we should manage our own land. Within the last twenty years we were advised to have a large part of Clandon Park ploughed and reseeded (yet again) with the aim of trying to  improve its  leys. This recent ploughing and reseeding was even grant funded because it was to improve the Grade 11 Listed Parkland Grass at Clandon Park. We dutifully followed the advice to plough and reseed (against our better judgement) however, sadly, the end results were very short lived and no improvement to the biodiversity of grassland was achieved because some species, unsuitable for growing in our soil, did not survive for long. 

We have never believed that  ploughing, reseeding or the use of chemical fertiliser have been the way forward. So we have steadfastly returned to our tried and tested Clandon Park ways of improving the biodiversity of our grassland and guess what .... it has improved steadily since we returned to following our own Conservation Management Plans. We have improved the leys naturally through mowing later in the year for our hay production and the grazing of our sheep and horses, in rotation, has produced improved results in the current climate, even during the prolonged drought we experienced during 2018. 

The existence of Clandon Park grassland is totally dependent on processes that prevent its succession to scrub and woodland. Grazing and mowing arrests succession and maintains suitable conditions for naturally occurring grassland plants and animals and a number of suitable introduced species. 

Clandon Park has always avoided the use of non organic fertilisers wherever possible and has never used any of the banned fertilisers on crops or grassland. The grassland in the Southern and Western reaches of the Estate is now producing the best meadow hay with a far wider variety of species. Even the poorer quality grassland in the North and the East of the holding is starting to show some improvement too. We still have some way to go to create ideal or optimum diversity in our sward on some areas of Clandon Park, however, we are certainly now taking giant old fashioned steps towards it ! 


Clandon Park

Herbicides are those rather unpleasant,   and often dangerous, fluid sprays that are used to kill what some describe as weeds. 'Weeds' is a blanket description for any vegetation that a landowner does not want or require growing in a certain place. 

We all know that what is considered to be a weed by one person, will be considered to be a beautiful wild flower by another. More importantly birds, mammals and insects love a wide variety of these common plants, no matter what we think of them ! 

So the balance of grazing, mowing and allowing wild flowers (or weeds) to grow on a large agricultural Estate, such as Clandon Park, must sound like a real challenge to an outsider. The key to achieving this balance is not to use any herbicides (which we avoid unless we are faced with no option but to spot spray a localised infestation). The real key is to make sure we get our "timing" right. Sounds simple ... well it is. 

The reason why common weeds (we like to call them meadow plants) are regularly seen in our fields, woodland, watermargins and hedgerows is because we don't like the use of herbicides. Importantly we need the biodiversity to create top quality hay and we use our old faithful methods of early and late rotational grazing and late mowing to be sure we can retain them. We 'low density' graze or intensify grazing whenever necessary, we rotate horses with sheep as and when required because their different foot/hoof physiology are useful to tread in different types of seeds to different depths which assists self seeding of meadow plants. Perhaps the most important of all measures that we undertake is to carefully orchestrate the grazing by different species of livestock. Each type of animal grazes on slightly different species of plants or length of herbage. Two breeds of sheep (one of these are currently grazing Lord Onslow's holding in Leicestershire, part of which is an important 8th century Heritage site), one breed of cattle, one breed of goats (also currently in Leicestershire), four main breeds of horses (TB, Irish, Dutch Warm Blood and Cleveland Bay) and Welsh Section A,B and D ponies are our main livestock, some of which are our own duel purpose farm or leisure use conservation grazers ! 

Essentially, we read the land we know so well, and we have intuitively allowed certain meadow land, headlands and water margins to remain fallow by annual rotation or at certain times of the year. One example of the results of this important Policy is that ground nesting birds, though only common species, abound .....undisturbed in one particular area of the Estate. These practices that we have adopted and embraced, can be traced back in Clandon Park's Estate management history  as early as 1740. Even some of the original Field and Way names are a real giveaway as far as their historic biodiversity is concerned ! 

Again, common herbicides, as so often used in many gardens, whether systemic, selective or otherwise, are potentially lethal to many fish, birds, amphibians, invertebrates, small mammals and of course vegetation. The contaminated drift from herbicide spraying is airborne and can be carried some distance by the wind. Such spray could also pollute the source of the water that feeds our lakes, or drift in to the water that flows along a ditch and the water could then leach into our fields. 

We do not like the use of herbicides and although we accept they are occasionally required, we strongly disapprove of their use unless absolutely necessary (e.g. to control highly invasive species where pulling up and burning is impractical) Even then any herbicide should be used with extreme caution by very well informed individuals. 

2017 SURVEY RESULTS (Plant species):

During 2017 the dominant and all readily identified plant species from each habitat type, within each habitat location, were carefully recorded in two surveys and their abundance were assessed on the DAFOR scale:

D Dominant, A Abundant, F Frequent, O Occasional, R Rare.

 There were no notable species or species of principal importance recorded on Clandon Park. The survey included the grassland, lakes, in and around the wooded features and all forest areas (Although there are some notable trees recorded in our separate 2017 Clandon Park Tree Survey (see Menu)

The recent surveys have shown that there is a recordable increase in our most sought after wetland and grassland plant species, and they also show that the diversity of species has improved significantly in some areas on Clandon Park over the last 20 years. The clandon Park team are understandably thrilled with this progress.


The very laborious long month of daily hand pulling of poisonous plants in 2014, particularly to reduce an infestation of the highly toxic ragwort plant, proved to be very effective. This success is particularly noticeable in the worst affected areas in the southern fields and the south west and south east quarters of the park. We are not completely on top of the issue as yet because there are still many seeds dormant in the soil, however, we would like to thank all existing staff,  all temporary staff (employed specifically to pull ragwort ! ) and the many generous volunteers, who contributed to the success so far. Your efforts made a real difference and has significantly reduced the need for the use of herbicide on Clandon Park. Thank you ! 


Clandon Park

Insecticides, of whatever variety, are chemicals designed specifically to kill insects. Very few insecticides kill selectively. In other words they will kill most insects not just those that make holes in our vegetables ! 

From the common fly spray that is still used in a home, to the giant boom sprayers that parade along enormous agricultural expanse on intensively farmed holdings, farmers use it to spray their vegetation to kill insects well before the insects can ruin their produce. 

Clandon Park enjoys the buzzing of all types of bees and the sound and sight of many insects, not because it grows specific crops that attracts insects, but because Lord Onslow chooses not to. Such crops could easily be grown at Clandon Park and have been grown here in the past but that is not what the family wishes do. 

Interestingly, entomology has always been an interest of the Onslow family, not necessarily to catch insects to observe them but more to provide habitats for them. The banks of the lakes, the fallen deadwood, the intricate wasp nests in the old barn, the stagnant water pool, mud, sand, old tree roots and graceful reeds where dragonfly larvae climb ....all these habitats and more are places we manage by leaving well alone unless intervention is required (too many reeds might need to be managed if they spread too fast as an example) 

So why do we think about insects so much? Well, of course, we all need the obvious important pollinators and we shoot partridge for the table (young partridge need insects to eat very soon , after they are hatched). We also love the fact that hundreds of swallows fly thousands of miles to return to Clandon Park every year, and swallows and many other birds only eat insects. We also love fishing and fish take insects from the surface of the water. These are just a few important reasons why insects are so very necessary to the Clandon Park environment. 

The recent scare about the use of insecticides that contain Neonicotinoids is worrying. The neonicotinoid family includes acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Imidacloprid and is the most widely used insecticide in the world. Compared to organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, it is claimed that neonicotinoids cause less toxicity in birds and mammals than toxicity in insects. However, our view is that we should avoid causing any toxicity in birds, mammals or insects which means we should avoid using any of them. After all, it appears to be the use of these specific insecticides that has probably decimated the Bee population in Europe through their use over only a very few years. These insectides appear to be a very serious threat to our main pollinators, bees. 

Without pollination most species in our world would not survive.... actually, without the insect pollination of  flowers, grass, vegetables and the lungs of the earth ....trees, I doubt anything would survive for very long ! 

Clandon Park has thankfully never had reason, cause or the inclination to use any of these insecticides and has no intention of using them at any time in the future. 

Hopefully, wherever this policy is possible, others will follow ....


Clandon Park

Pollution comes in many forms. Clandon Park is exposed daily (and nightly) to many forms of pollution. These pollutants include airborne particulates such as Carbons from  busy roads and droplets of rain that carry sulphur Dioxide (acid rain)  caused through the burning of lignite (and other fossil fuels).  Contaminated water from other  pollutants such as runoff from roads carrying oil, railway lines where timber preservatives still haunt, neighbouring properties where pollutants could leach from, fuel and exhaust fumes from vehicles, loud noise such as that from traffic and intense light from artificial lights on roads and car parks ( there are many lit or noisy car parks that lie on or close to our boundary)  or other forms of pollution which are too numerous to list here. 

We cannot always see pollution in the air (unless it's light pollution obviously !) but we may be able to smell it, feel the particles of it that have built up over time on foliage, notice it as 'dirt' when we wash our hair, hear it as a constant irritating drone in the background of our workplace, measure it during our research or, evidence the results of its effects on plant and animal species over time, by undertaking regular field Study Trips. 

The more we learn about the contemporary Clandon Park, the more we realise why she has never tolerated large amounts of people trudging across her. We have also learnt why she does accept any level of significant interference or suffer pollution lightly. Of course she regularly welcomes groups of  students who respect her for what she is, and who do not leave litter or trudge with ignorance through her numerous habitats, However, on certain parts of the holding, she is adversely affected by those who overstay their welcome when it rains....for example, Glanstonberry on a very wet week springs to mind if we get so much as a light shower on one part of the Estate ! 

In those places a quagmire can be created at the blink of an eye. So we guess that with soil that does not drain easily, certain pollutants probably sit on top of our soil, particularly in the South of the Estate, We assume that  pollutants stay on this ground far longer than other fields or our nearby golf course land, which drain reasonably well. 

This strange anomaly, found between holdings on Clandon Park, is likely because there is a difference in soil type that cuts straight through the South of the Estate. On one side of this line rain water sits on the surface of the ground for several days, which, if disturbed, seems to create a great deal of clay mud when it rains. Whereas any surface water soaks straight into the ground immediately on the other side of the line ! This is undoubtedly why the Ph is so different on one side when compared to the other. It also accounts for why some species of plants, trees and grasses grow so well on one side and do not thrive at all on the other. This may be exacerbated by climate change in the future. We guess that in addition to the different soil types, it may mean that particulate and fluid pollutants could be affecting one side more than the other. So we are gathering evidence of this phenomena purely for our own interest and we will publish our findings here if we find anything interesting. 

As as far as noise and light pollution is concerned, we increasingly live and must thrive in a modern, well lit, often quite noisy world. Thankfully the local beautiful areas of West Clandon and Merrow have long since moved on from the dark ages too, and light and noise are part of today's world. So when it comes to light and traffic noise the Estate can no longer be tied to aged theories of prescribed conservation for conserving sake....to some extent conservation of the land and its diversity, has to evolve with the times, building resilience in the environment that presents itself at the time. 

There are many questions that the team at Clandon Park have asked of the Onslow family over recent years. Should we protect the Parkland by returning the Park to how it was originally in the 1600's with hedgerows to provide shelter and that offered protection against erosion ? Should we look at creating a Capability Brown style Park in the South of the Estate as was the fashion of the 1700's to create a visitor attraction ? Is it possible to manage all the land in some sort of time warp while also undertaking the very important family agricultural business and other various enterprises ?  Should we strive to protect what the Onslow family originally created and not move forward with the times ? Should we cease creating new habitats ? Should we wrap the whole of the Estate in aspic and let it become an outdoor museum ? The answer is simple, the Onslow family will continue to manage this agricultural Estate as they always have done. As increasing noise, light and other contaminants affect the ecology, they will attempt to protect it by landscaping, introducing a few more  tolerant species, carefully monitoring the environment and make minor or major adjustments when required, exactly as they have always done.

 As every good gardener knows, it is pointless trying to grow an acid loving plant in sand or expect a species of grass that thrives in  the wetlands to grow well in dry, well drained soil. So we do not impose conservation measures on our land  where it would mean returning to  concepts that once worked when climate change did not threaten the biodiversity on the holding or the wider area. This is because Clandon Park and the  biodiversity that embodies its landscape, has already evolved over hundreds of years to enable it to survive in today's climate and it must not look backwards. 

In a nutshell, pollutants come in many forms and we must minimise them wherever possible but we strongly believe we should nurture Clandon Park, however, we should also allow her to move forward and evolve over time. This way this special place will continue to cope with modern day pollutants and climate change without too much intervention,  and that is exactly how we manage her. 


Clandon Park

No matter what your views on vermin control or even the grim management of intestinal worm infestation,  nobody really wants to have to deal with these type of issues every day. Well, at Clandon Park we are blessed with one employee who thrives on such challenges. From Aphids to Z she is out to keep a balance  on the predator and parasite front. She shares our view that even species that are predators and parasites are a very important constituent of our biodiversity if the balance is right. 

Of course we are not keen on non-indigenous species so she also keeps a sharp lookout for visitors such as foreign aggressive wasps that might be nesting somewhere on the Estate (one nest was apparently recently spotted in a local village). Most of the time she chooses to deal with the many and different intestinal and lung worms that could potentially or already routinely affect livestock but she also observes carefully for signs of the vicious non-native mink (apparently they can attack ducks and bite their legs off while they swim - ghastly) and she is persistently looking out for all manner of invasive or non native species that may have sneaked on to the Estate. She can apparently spot a Japanese Knotweed at 100 paces (or so her daughter claims). 

It appears we have no reason to be alarmed as we are very effective at keeping a balance and use only humane and legal methods of control if the balance goes too far one way. Her  simple theory about balancing biodiversity on the Estate is that sometimes too little or too much of one good thing could potentially cause harm to other good things. 

A sudden noticeable increase in the numbers of rats on one part of the Estate posed a significant challenge a few years ago. Apart from the obvious potential health risks of rats they were becoming regular predators of duck and chicken eggs. Control measures were stepped up and the balance reinstated swiftly.  Interestingly we do not appear to have too many foxes on the north side of the Epsom road, so there is no need for causing them any disturbance. There are one or two good looking healthy vixen that can be found hanging around at dusk, close to the attractive village of West Clandon, and there is one, particularly dark dog fox, that travels the length and breadth of the Parkland regularly hunting in broard daylight ! Our predator control policy  has always been clear in that a good handsome healthy predator population on the Estate is natural and important. This may be because they contribute to keeping  the numbers of their prey species in check, and no doubt keep other species wary and on their toes. 

This is the natural way and all types of predators add to the animal and plant diversity. Importantly predators benefit some species .... so long as ground nesting bird numbers are not too adversely affected by our larger predators because these we wish to conserve and work towards improving their numbers. 

As for other predators and parasites generally, there are many habitats out there for many different predators and prey alike. There are numerous  woodland, wetland and grassland  predators and  parasites that  coexist. Predators often do as much good in small but healthy numbers as they can do harm when their populations become too high. 

So, as far as Clandon Park is concerned predators and parasites are welcome....  so long as predation or disease does not escalate and tip the balance in favour of them. 


Clandon Park

As we all brace ourselves for the steady inevitable effects of climate change, we have to prepare for far more extremes of weather. Global warming does not mean we are all going to live in a warmer climate.... it means we are going to face extreme changes in our climate. A lurch from floods to heatwaves one year perhaps  changing to high humidity and wind storms the next. Our weather is going to become less predictable. Our view is that we have to manage according to what affects us adversely. 

How Clandon Park prepares for this is simple to answer. Clandon Park has been evolving steadily for 400 years so another era of change is unlikely to affect it too much ..... although it may have to employ rather more technology to keep pace over the foreseeable future. 

Soil erosion is certainly one of Clandon Parks greatest threats. It has so little top soil in places that when the soil was at one time ploughed they must have been turning clods of pure clay ! 

So why does the top soil erode so easily at Clandon Park and why does that effect our land so adversely ? 

Well, firstly the land is very flat. Other than Wilderness Farm land, which extends from Clandon House across the Epsom road, almost to Newlands Corner, the Estate enjoys flat or slightly sloping land. This land is subjected to erosion through strong wind and rain, particularly where there are few hedgerow or wooded areas. Hedgerows act as wonderful windbreaks and shelter for animals (as well as being wonderful habitats) but at Clandon Park the old hedgerows started to be removed in the late 1700's and they have slowly reduced in number over the centuries. This lack of protective boundary, on this particular type of soil, makes for soil erosion to be commonplace. 

There is little that can be done to prevent further soil erosion. Forests and the banks on the side of the railway line, in the North of the Estate, have protected the swimming lake from too much wave activity. So the banks of this modern lake and the surrounding fields have not eroded too much. However, in areas in the South and South West of the Estate, where there are less wooded shelter belts , the wind whips up the soil in the fields and waves on the lake and more soil erosion was occuring every year. So we allow vegestation to grow up to compensate for this. 

There is very little that can be done to prevent soil erosion at Clandon Park, other than to introduce more organic material to the affected areas, plant more watermargin plants to protect the lake margins, plant more forests and, where possible,  landscape so as to protect the land. 

Soil erosion is flagged as one of the greatest challenges we have to face at Clandon Park.