‘Down to Earth’ on the Waddesdon Estate

Resource explained

The Down to Earth project followed the farming team at the Waddesdon Estate across the seasons in 2023 to capture and highlight their work across Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire throughout 2023. These four short films share the practices and approaches employed by the team as they embark on a journey of trial and transition towards regenerative agriculture and look to improve the resilience of their farms… From the careful management of soils to the art of composting, each episode offers a window into the estate’s commitment to nurturing the land and fostering sustainability. From monitoring biodiversity to promoting dialogue within the local farming community, each film is a testament to the power of collaboration, innovation, and stewardship in cultivating a more resilient tomorrow for agriculture and the environment.

The project is a collaboration between Agricology, RuralPod Media and Down to Earth Media and was generously funded by the Rothschild Foundation. Find out more about it here.

Findings & recommendations

Down to Earth – Part One – Starting with the Soil (also access via the link above)

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This film introduces the estate which has been transitioning to more regenerative farming practices over the last 4 years to help make the 3,200 acres of arable land more resilient. Olly Pemberton, Farm Manager and agronomist, and Chris Leach, Head of Sustainability and Conservation, describe their sustainability goals of working towards net zero, reducing environmental impact and increasing biodiversity, and the challenges faced, which start with building soil organic matter and fungal networks to support the crops. They introduce the impressive compost-making process on the estate…

“When we get the soils functioning correctly and cycling nutrients correctly, we can start to step back, away from the synthetic gravy train”

olly pemberton

“I’m looking at my bacterial and my fungal content as a kick-starter to repairing our soils from the conventional system that we’ve been in over the years…”


Down to Earth – Part Two – Compost in Action

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This film takes us to the Cambridgeshire Fens where the Waddesdon Estate has Kingsland Farm. Currently in a 5-year agreement with Wildfarmed, the land was managed by Nick Padwick in 2023, who show us operations at Ken Hill Farms, including practicing innovative composting approaches and arable cropping systems, both of which influenced how he managed the land at Kingsland. Hear how Nick creates “bio complete” compost and compost extracts to improve soil microbiology and reduce synthetic inputs. He also describes an innovative pasture cropping system where strips of herbage leys are being grown inbetween rows of wheat.

“The reason behind us doing all of this is to put in all these missing microbes that our current farming system has depleted… the ploughing, the cultivating, the use of synthetic inputs, has degraded and destroyed all of these fundamental elements within the soil”


“We’re now year 3, and as we start to increase the amount of compost we’re putting on and using, we have reduced the amount of nitrates we’re putting on, and are now 2 years down the road from not using any nitrate fertilisers…”


Down to Earth – Part Three – Boosting Biodiversity

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This film focuses on nature friendly farming techniques being implemented on the estate to allow them to adapt to the changes in climate, improving biodiversity and increasing environmental resilience across the farmland. We hear about how they are working within the stewardship schemes. Activities such as widening crop rotations, making the best use of wooded areas, different ways of integrating livestock, creating wetlands and developing diverse habitats, are allowing them to reduce herbicide applications and run a zero-insecticide policy. Olly Pemberton describes new machinery and technology being used to tackle the weed burden (particularly blackgrass) and Chris Leach describes how they are working with conservation groups and volunteers to monitor wildlife across the estate.

“The woodlands around you are a vital part of the ecosystem that you need around you to be able to grow good crops… We have a zero insecticide policy here because it is essential that we have insects… we need those for all the other biodiversity that is around…”


“A lot of this is work that has been done in the past but we’ve sort of forgotten how to do it… so we’re learning or re-learning all these techniques, but we’re doing it now with a lot more technology than we ever had in the past…”

Olly Pemberton

Down to Earth – Part Four – Connecting with the Community

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The final film focuses on the importance of bringing people together and connecting with the wider community to encourage change on a broader basis and help tackle the climate, policy and environmental changes farmers face. We hear how the estate engages with their tenant farmers, creating space to share ideas on improving farming practices, and examples of sharing knowledge and contributing to events with local farm clusters, environmental groups and agricultural organisations and projects, including Agricology.

“Farmer clusters bring farmers together across a local landscape to tackle shared environmental challenges…”


“I’ve learnt today that diversity is key in every aspect of our management…. diversity in our techniques, and diversity in the plants and the flora and fauna that we’re trying to proliferate…”

Thame Catchment Farm Cluster

Summary provided by:

Janie Caldbeck

Associated Agricology Partner Organisation(s):

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