About the Estate
The West Dean Estate covers approximately 6,400 acres (2,590 hectares) along the Sussex South Downs. It stretches over 6 miles (9.7 kms) from the South Downs escarpment overlooking the Sussex Weald to the edge of the Trundle Hill overlooking the English Channel and the Isle of Wight. While much of the village of West Dean and West Dean College is sheltered within the Lavant valley, the Estate rises to its highest point of almost 750 feet (280 m) on the top of the Downs.
The Estate is broadly divided into three constituent parts; one-third let to tenant farmers, one-third farmed directly in-hand (through the Estate's own farming company, Karova Farms Limited) with the remaining third managed in-hand as commercial woodlands. West Dean Gardens and St. Roche's Arboretum, linked by the Parkland Walk, also fall within the Estate.
Edward James having grown up on the Estate, inheriting it at the age of 5 on his father's death in 1912, was keen to ensure the Estate remained intact during and beyond his own lifetime. By gifting the majority of the Estate to the Edward James Foundation upon its formation in 1964 and the remainder upon his death twenty years later, he achieved this as far as he was able and the Estate today remains much as it was when Edward inherited it almost a hundred years ago.
Through Karova Farms Limited the Estate operates a mixed (arable and livestock) farming enterprise. Arable crops include barley, wheat, oil seed rape and oats, and the livestock enterprise includes the Estate's last remaining dairy herd, a small beef unit and a growing flock of breeding Beulah ewes which lamb outdoors.
The Estate's commercial woodlands were very severely affected by major storms in both 1987 and 1990. An extensive storm clearance and re-planting programme was undertaken and these new plantations are now reaching first thinning stage, much of the material from the thinning operations being converted into woodchips for the College's biomass heating and domestic hot water system.
The Estate supports a large wild deer population. With no natural predators, their control is an essential part of estate management if damage to farm and forestry crops is to be kept within acceptable limits. Accompanied deer stalking is also available by arrangement.
West Dean Estate was well-known for its large shooting parties at the turn of the twentieth-century, with King Edward VII and many other royal visitors. Its commercial pheasant and partridge shoots are still an important part of the local economy today.
For those who enjoy exploring the highways and byways, the Estate is well-served by an extensive network of over 20 miles (32 km) of public rights of way, both footpaths and bridleways.
Natural England leases land on the Estate's south-western boundary which forms part of Bow Hill and Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve, renowned for its naturally-occurring yew forest – the largest in Europe. Another part of the Estate is leased to the Sussex Wildlife Trust and is managed as a local nature reserve with traditional hazel coppice with oak standards. The Reserve is also home to a flourishing wild daffodil colony. Both Reserves are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
The Estate's 151 houses and cottages, over one-third of which are Grade II Listed Buildings, are maintained largely by a directly-employed workforce and let to a range of people including local families, individuals working locally, staff and several students. Many of the buildings are flint-faced. West Dean House, now the College, is faced more ornately with knapped flints and galletting (small slivers of flint inserted edge on into the mortar between individual flints). West Dean House is a Grade II* Listed Building. This particular grading covers the top 5.5% of Listed Buildings in England and Wales.
The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum is a separate charitable trust that specialises in rescuing, researching and displaying to the public vernacular buildings from the south east of England. It has a collection of nearly 50 historic buildings dating from the 13th to the 19th century and occupies land on the Estate’s eastern boundary close to the village of Singleton.
Farbridge Wedding and Conference Centre
Near the Estate’s southern boundary a new and rather different enterprise has just begun in refurbished farm buildings at Binderton, a high quality function centre, primarily for weddings, trading as Farbridge. Elsewhere on the Estate, small-scale entrepreneurs license buildings for use as stores and workshops and small areas of land are let for grazing horses, ponies and pigs.
Surplus income generated from the Estate directly supports the Foundation's charitable activities.