Hayley Chitty is one of a group of friends who bought Berry Farm on the Norfolk/Suffolk border back in 2005. Here she talks about managing the land in a ecologically sustainable manner, and opening their first shepherd hut style holiday let this year, complete with compostable toilet!
I’m a member of the co-operative that bought Berry Farm in 2005 with the aims of managing the land in an ecologically sustainable manner and producing low-impact food for the local area. One of the first things we did was plant a quarter of the 20-acre site to woodland with native tree varieties and much of the rest of the site is meadows. Gradually, as the trees grew and the wildlife increased, the farm became more of a nature spot and in 2016 we were asked if we could host a camp for a youth group when their usual campsite was fully booked. Seeing how much they enjoyed the space (they’ve been regulars ever since!), we were inspired to open up the campsite to a wider audience and later apply for planning permission for four shepherd hut style holiday lets, the first of which opened this year.
Keeping everything as low impact as possible is really at the core of what we do. The Shepherd Hut itself has solar electrics and a compost toilet, and all profit from the stays goes to helping us achieve our environmental aims and secure the future of the farm.
We graze our cattle on flower-rich herbal leys and meadows which provide them with important minerals and improves the soil, building natural fertility for our vegetable growing. Our traditional hay meadows and grazed pastures provide a home to wildflowers and invertebrates, which is excellent for small mammals and birds of prey including barn owls. We’re particularly excited that our woods’ scrubby edges have attracted a pair of Turtle Doves.
The hardest thing for us during the lockdowns were the schools being closed. It’s been pretty much business as usual at the farm because even in the first lockdown we were classed as key workers so having the kids home too has kept us very busy! Maybe we could have opened a little sooner without all that to contend with but really this is a great time for us to be opening. With foreign travel and large events still uncertain, there’s a lot of demand for UK holidays and, being self-contained with no shared facilities, the Shepherd Hut is really Covid safe.
The feedback has been amazing so far – our first two bookings have already been back in touch about possible return visits! The reviews we’ve received have been really positive about the local area as well as the accommodation itself.
The compostable toilets are an alternative to flush toilets which save on water. The toilets are up a short flight of stairs so that the waste can collect in a barrel underneath. Sawdust is dropped down after use which stops things from getting smelly. When each barrel is getting a bit full, we simply swap in a new barrel and leave the first for a year or so to turn into ‘humanure’ which is rich in nutrients and can be used safely as a feed for things like fruit bushes where there’s no need for it to come into contact of any part of the plant you would eat.
The last May Day Bank Holiday, with the wind and the rain, was fine! There’s an efficient wood burner in the Shepherd Hut and it’s insulated so it gets cosy really quickly. Even I was surprised at how little wood our guests burned! There were some breaks in the weather too which people took advantage of to get out and about or have treats around a campfire.
I’m not taking anything for granted – if there’s a new variant, I’d rather we took it seriously quickly and another lockdown could be necessary for that. I do think I’m lucky though that I’m running a business that is less likely to be impacted by Covid rules than most.
Where we are in Ilketshall St Andrew the seven commons form a county wildlife site. There’s also an abundance of footpaths including a section of the Angles Way. We’re on the edge of the Broads National Park and an hour’s cycle (or a quick drive!) from the coast. Although Berry Farm feels very ‘away from it all’, we’re only three miles each way from Beccles and Bungay where there are swimming pools including Beccles Lido and a range of shops and places to eat.
As for the future, we’ve still got three more Shepherd Huts to build – that should keep us busy!