The venerable Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in Cirencester has secured a new partnership with Gloucestershire’s Bathurst Estate. This will provide students and staff with access to 15,000 acres of farmland, forestry, environmentally managed land, real estate, heritage properties and a range of rural enterprises for teaching, research and knowledge exchange – all right next door to the university itself.
The diverse range of rural enterprises that operate within the Bathurst Estate will provide invaluable real-world experience to students on all of the University’s courses – including agriculture, business, the environment, real estate, rural land management, equine and the new cultural heritage programmes launching this year.
The move comes after the university sold sell off its 622-acre livestock unit Harnhill, just outside Cirencester, in January this year.
Harnhill Manor Farm was bought in 2009 and was run as an integrated livestock and cropping system. The university still owns the skills centre next to the farm, in which it invested £1.2 million in 2013, along with the Frank Parkinson Agricultural Trust. The site includes Farm491 workshops and the John Oldacre Rural Innovation Centre (JORIC) which has facilities for events, teaching and training in rural skills. The JORIC incorporates a laboratory research workshop, a machinery workshop, a demonstration hall and an extensive external training area, as well as some surrounding land for training purposes.
The Bathurst Estate is only one area of agricultural land the RAU students have access to. The university leases nearby Coates Manor Farm – a 601 acre mixed arable farm adjacent to the campus which students have access to and students also have access to over 100 farms, estates (e.g. Miserden Estate and Guiting Power Estate) and rural businesses, many located near the RAU campus, that provide facilities for practical teaching and direct experience of the work place.
Students also are taught at Kemble Dairy Farm and Leaze Dairy Farm, and the university also runs an equine facility at nearby Fossehill Farm which is used for teaching purposes as well as offering student and private liveries.
The RAU leases a vineyard in Down Ampney, where its award-winning Cotswold Hills wine is grown, with students involved at all stages of production “from grape to glass”.
The historic Bathurst Estate is owned by Lord Allen Bathurst, an alumnus and one of the University’s Vice-Presidents. The Bathurst family has supported the University (then the Royal Agricultural College) since its foundation 175 years ago.
The Estate will benefit greatly from a closer working relationship with the University. Engagement with academics who are thought leaders, alongside staff and student research projects will inevitably add value to its future strategic plans.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Joanna Price said: “The traditional approach taken by land-based institutions like ours has been to rely heavily on facilities provided by their own farms. However, this can limit the students’ learning experience at a time of unprecedented change in the way we produce food, manage land, our natural resources and sustain rural economies into the future. To this end, we must ensure that our students’ horizons are as broad as possible.
“This collaboration provides additional opportunities on our doorstep for students to gain applied practical experience of innovative and sustainable approaches to managing the land, producing food in an economically sustainable way, while protecting the environment, supporting the rural economy and enhancing the local community.”
Lord Bathurst said: “I welcome this new partnership which will allow students to get experience and access to everyday practical land management issues. The Estate in return will gain from the students’ freer blue sky thinking and a ‘can do’ approach and attitude to tackling some of the traditional problems found in the landed sector.”
Lewis Bebb, RAU Student Union President, said: “This new partnership between the RAU and the Bathurst Estate is a truly exciting move which will bring about a breadth of opportunities for students on all of the University’s courses. I am very much looking forward to seeing the benefits it will bring to the student experience and the invaluable real-life skills which will be gained.”