Behind the scenes at Harewood House, with Ben Lascelles

Ben Lascelles at the Harewood Estate
Ben Lascelles at the Harewood Estate
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The importance of biodiversity and the continued challenges faced by climate change have long been in the headlines.

Natural space is under increasing pressure from many conflicting uses and Harewood is no different. The grade I listed parkland, designed by “Capability” Brown, has remained largely unchanged since its creation in the late 18th century with Hebridean sheep still rearing their lambs here in spring. So how is biodiversity faring here and what are we doing to manage it?

In 2015, the British Trust for Ornithology publicised a document, Birds of Conservation Concern 4, which reviewed the status of birds in the UK. 30 per cent of the 244 species assessed were assigned to the Red List of Conservation Concern. A quick cross check shows that more than 75 of the species listed as red or amber have been seen at Harewood, and almost 50 of them occur here regularly. This includes woodcock, lapwing, curlew, grey partridge, tree sparrow, skylark and cuckoo.

Work to conserve and protect our native bird life has been top of the agenda for many years at Harewood. The successful reintroduction of red kites to the Harewood Estate in 1999 has been one of the most prominent and best known.

We’re pleased to say that the kites moved to the green list for the first time; this enigmatic and majestic raptor has been allowed to recover sufficiently to be downlisted, one of the great British conservation success stories.

Clearly Harewood has an important role to play in the conservation of these species. Our farming and woodland operations are already factoring in safeguarding space for these and many other species. The creation of wetlands and hedgerows are just two examples of biodiversity projects which have enriched the local flora, fauna and wildlife at Harewood.

It’s not just birds you can find here, we have a near full complement of native mammals too! Harewood’s Deer Park holds both red and fallow deer, with the shy roe also living in our woodlands.

Autumn is the best time to see the rutt when male deer assert their dominance over the herd, with the red stags being particularly vocal. Pastures throughout the estate support badgers, foxes and hedgehogs, while in our waterways lurk the elusive otters and water voles.

Spring is perhaps my favourite time to see wildlife at Harewood as the woodlands come alive with bluebells and snowdrops, and new shoots of green growth sprout from ancient oaks, beech and chestnut trees. Walking around the bridleways you can hear the drumming of woodpeckers and the mewing of kites and buzzards high overhead. Barn owls can also been seen hunting in the early evening as they find food for their already well grown chicks.

So biodiversity is doing well here, but the days of a country estate just being managed as somewhere idyllic for a privileged few to stroll around and enjoy the views are long gone. We’re a modern estate with business interests and a number of competing obligations. We have a successful farming company, managing the land in partnership with neighbouring farmers.

Most recently, we invested in a major green energy project, which uses wood chip from our own woodland to heat offices and residences across the estate including Harewood House itself. This makes good business sense and it’s positive for the environment too. We are now managing our woodlands in a more hands on way that considers the needs of the wildlife that lives here.

Across all our operations were striving to protect and enhance our habitats and create a well-managed landscape that balances the needs of biodiversity and business in a sustainable way.