A GODSON of the Queen, Michael-John Knatchbull, has revealed that the massive Mersham Hatch Estate near Ashford is to be split and the family is to cease farming. The decision has sent shockwaves through Kent's rural community.
The Knatchbull family called together their staff at Smeeth Village Hall this week to announce the decision. For more than 500 years they have farmed the fertile acres in the parishes of Mersham, Brabourne, Smeeth, Hinxhill and Brook.
Addressing the labour force of 19, many of who had worked for the family for 20 or 30 years, Michael-John Knatchbull explained the problems of recent years.
He cited the enormous drop in prices paid to farmers over some years, the foot and mouth problems and poor weather as elements leading to unsustainable trading losses for many farmers including them.
He said: "It also leads to a very gloomy prognosis for agriculture in the future. This is the result of legislation, the global markets, the Green Pound and a Government who don't care about farmers and the countryside in general.
"I know it will be a huge shock but it is with deep regret that we have decided the only option is to close down the farm business which includes the two dairy units and the arable enterprise. The sad reality is that redundancies are likely. This has been the most difficult thing I have ever had to do."
Tenants are being invited to take over more than 2,000-acres, including two dairy farms with 450 milking cows, and the arable enterprise that could be split into two or three units.
Michael-John Knatchbull is the son of Countess Mountbatten of Burma and Lord Brabourne. He said: "My parents, my wife Penelope and I have been closely involved in reaching the decision. The one thing we have always been sure about is that we want to try and keep the estate intact."
They will retain almost 1,000 acres of woodland that is regarded as one of the best game shoots in Kent, and the deer park and land around Mersham-le-Hatch house.
Lord Brabourne said: "My family has farmed here since 1485 but the business has been going downhill for some time and it was a sad but prudent decision. We are not selling up the estate that is so dear to us all."
He added: "The news is a shock to us all and we are deeply concerned for all our employees, and we share our son and daughter-in-laws distress and deep regret at the sad steps we have had to take."
The various farm enterprises will continue to run until October and there is hope that tenants might take over the stock and some of the staff.
Like his father, Michael-John is an established film director and in the future he expects to expand his media interests.