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Farming talk: Acute Oak Decline, by Charlotte Adkin

10/06/2015

Woodlands, particularly ancient broadleaf plantations, are a highly treasured asset of farms and estates from the perspective of aesthetics, recreation and amenity value. However, sadly, they are often undermanaged or overlooked due to the high cost of maintenance and the inevitably long term nature of any economic return (with the exception of shooting estates).


In recent history, the most well publicised threat to our broadleaf woodlands was (and remains) Ash Dieback (Chalara fraxinea now known as Hymenoscyphus fraxineus); which although first spotted in the UK in woods in Buckinghamshire as late as February 2012; soon became a widespread problem, affecting woodlands across the country.


This year, sadly, there appears to be another disease threatening our ancient oak woodlands: Acute Oak Decline (commonly known as AOD). This is particularly pertinent to farmers, land agents and estate owners in the county as it is most prevalent in the Midlands and is visible in our woodlands in Shropshire.


As is common with recently discovered diseases; much remains unknown about AOD; in particular the cause and the way it is spread. However the Forestry Commission, namely Dr Sandra Denman and her team are doing invaluable research on the condition in Shropshire and other parts of the country in order to increase our knowledge. This will consequently guide woodland management and disease prevention for the future.


Suffice it to say, even with the basic knowledge we have at present; it is prudent that those working on or for farms and estates should be able to recognise cases of Acute Oak Decline (AOD) and monitor and record infected trees; particularly roadside trees or trees that, if weakened by AOD, may pose a threat to the public.


Therefore, here is some advice on how one can identify AOD in oaks on farms and estates:


•    Trees aged 50 years + . AOD most commonly affects mature oak trees, fifty years or older; although, recent evidence has shown younger trees displaying symptoms of the disease.
•    Evidence of stem bleeds. Look for vertical weeping fissures that seep black fluid down the trunk.
•    Splits in the bark of the tree: Look for longitudinal splits forming in the cracks between the bark plates of five to 10cm long.
•    Evidence of crown dieback. Thinning of the canopy is apparent as the tree draws near to its death.
•    Evidence of Agrilus Beetle Holes. Approximately one third of AOD cases display ‘D’ shaped exit holes in the trunk created by the Agrilus Beetle. It is not yet known whether the Agrilus beetle plays a part in the spread or severity of the condition.


It is worthy of note that AOD effects trees much more quickly than ‘Chronic Oak Decline’ and that infected oak trees can die as quickly as four years after the onset of the symptoms described above.


For more detailed information visit: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/acuteoakdecline

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New shirts spur St George’s School

14/05/2015

New shirts have been presented to Shrewsbury’s St George’s Primary School, with players having lots to celebrate. Balfours Property Professionals has sponsored St George’s Primary School football shirts –spurring the teams on to greater success this spring.

Ultimately the girls under 10 years took top honours winning the county cup; while the under 10 boys were pipped at the post on penalties. According to Head of PE, Gareth Jones every team entered by the school has progressed to at least the semi-finals.

He says: “The shirts are a real boost to the children’s’ moral it has given them a real buzz to wear shirts they can be proud of and we are most grateful to Balfours for their sponsorship. Alistair Hilton of Balfours adds: “As a local property agent it is good to be involved with a local project and we are delighted the children appreciate presentation can help them achieve.”

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Farming talk, Tim Perkins

12/05/2015

Continuity and stability are keywords with a majority government now in place, Environment and Farming ministers appointed and a suite of local MPs who should understand the needs of their rural constituencies. There are a number of key issues for farmers and other rural businesses in Shropshire that the government needs to promptly turn its attention to:

Broadband and Mobile Phone Coverage: Rural businesses must be able to compete with urban based businesses, communications are key.  The conservatives have said that they will hold mobile phone operators to a promise to provide 90% coverage of the UK land mass by 2017, and will continue to invest in superfast broadband to provide coverage to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017.

Bovine TB: Was a hot topic in the early 1900s, little would anyone think it would remain so contentious into the 21st century. The government must hold firm in its commitment to eradicate bovine TB within 25 years, the current cost of which is estimated to be one billion pounds over the next ten years.

Red Tape: Food producers suffer more regulation and red tape than most.  Much of this is poorly administered and co-ordinated, with duplication and a lack of understanding its implementation. The government has promised to take steps to start to address this by creating a body to co-ordinate farm inspections and eradicate unnecessary and time consuming doubling-up of these.  This is a start that cannot come too soon.

Tax: With the ever increasing uncertainties of the weather and commodity prices, it is welcome common sense news that any farm profits might now be ironed out over a five year period. It does seem unreasonable to charge 4% stamp duty for those purchasing over approximately 50 acres this amounts to an extra cost of £400 per acre to UK land prices.

Europe: Mr Cameron will have some big issues to negotiate; after which he has promised the referendum. However for farmers whilst reform and simplification on the CAP should be welcome, this should not compromise direct payments to farmers which provide the essential stability the industry requires, ultimately protecting both the nation’s food supply in harmony with conservation, wildlife and rural amenities.

Supermarkets: Too often small food producers remain at the mercy of large retailers which is, in the long term, unsustainable and to no one’s benefit. Similar issues are also present for the UK’s dairy producers; numbers of which continue to recede by the week. The government must continue to address this.

If the government’s manifesto promises are kept, we look forward to a sustainable future for the region’s farmers and other rural businesses. The mandate given to them through this election is to hit the ground running.


Tim Perkins is a partner in Balfours Property Professionals.

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How will land sales fare post-election

12/05/2015

 

Over the past five years land has been used as a hedge against recession, setting the land market on a skyward trajectory. Meantime, in the past two years as the general economy is starting to generate cash, we have actually seen farm-gate commodity prices falling along with EU support. Put all these factors into the crystal ball and while land prices this year are positive, we are unlikely - in the term of this government - to see the significant land price rises witnessed in the past five years.

Rural
At Balfours we have successfully completed on a number of private farmland sales this year; one of the latest being 300 acres in the south of the county and with the election now out of the way, it is likely more purchasers will feel ready to progress their businesses.

Without doubt neighbours seeking expansion understand the once in a lifetime opportunity that purchasing neighbouring farmland presents. Private farmland sales ‘off the open market’ have proved particularly popular this year in Shropshire and bordering counties, with deals struck as neighbours look to retire or off-load, safe in the knowledge that adjacent farms are keen to upsize.

Outside mainstream farmland the “model paddock” remains a vendors market, with access, location, fencing and water being drivers. We have just launched a paddock of less than 2 acres to the market at Brockton; with a guide of £25,000 – interest has already been very encouraging.  It can be a positive way to generate investment capital, whilst offloading parcels which no longer fit with the farm’s business plan.

Development land
Despite local and regional developers doubling the number of houses they are building this year, compared to 2014, there remains more planning permission granted, as councils seek to meet five year supply targets, than can be absorbed. Now with the formation of a second term of Conservative government and the economic stability these house builders are hoping – that these positive signals continue.

There is currently a big gap between the national builders with developments of 75 homes plus and the local builder, who is often looking for ten to 20 homes. It would appear this is not helped by the fact that once outline permission is granted, ‘reserved matters’ are often required within twelve months, which in the current economic climate is a big ask.

Individual plots in village locations remain popular; not least boosted by the fact that private individuals can register to be zero rated for CIL payment, offering a significant saving on building the dream home, for example on the average four bedroom house, at £80 per square metre, CIL would be in the region of £16,000. 

 

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Land market influences

11/05/2015

Continuation of the Government – and its economic strategies will offer greater stability for Shropshire’s land market. Balfours head of sales, Tim Main, says the constancy will serve to underpin the strength of the market.

Tim Main explains: “After an exceptionally strong market last year, we have successfully completed on a number of private farmland sales this year; one of the latest being 300 acres in the south of the county. With the election now out of the way, there will be purchasers out there who feel more confident.

It is true to say that neighbours seeking expansion understand the once in a lifetime opportunity purchasing neighbouring farmland presents. Private farmland sales ‘off the open market’ have proved particularly popular this year in Shropshire and bordering counties, with deals struck as neighbours look to retire or off-load, safe in the knowledge that adjacent farms are keen to upsize.”

The “model paddock” remains a vendors market, with access, location, fencing and water being drivers. “We have just launched a paddock of less than 2 acres to the market at Brockton; with a guide of £25,000 – interest has already been very encouraging.  

Development land

The return of David Cameron will be most appreciated by property developers seeking to invest in land. Despite local and regional developers doubling the number of houses they are building this year, compared to 2014, building land is currently outstripping demand.

Says Tim: “At present some development sites in smaller villages are proving to be surplus to requirements. Developers have just hesitated, but the formation of a second term of Conservative government is likely to be the economic stability they were hoping for – so that they can simply get on and build houses.

This market is without doubt being significantly curtailed by CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) payments currently running in the region of £80 per square metre; that amounts to around £16,000 on a four bedroom home. ”

According to Tim there is currently a big gap between the national builders with developments of 75 homes plus and the local builder, who takes plots of up to a dozen homes. “Again it would appear this is not helped by the fact that once outline permission is granted, ‘reserved matters’ are required within twelve months, which in the current economic climate is a big ask.

“However individual plots in village locations remain popular; not least boosted by the fact that private individuals can register to be zero rated for CIL payment, offering a significant saving on building the dream home,” adds Mr Main.

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Number 10 is vacant, is yours?

29/04/2015

The local rental residential market is flourishing and despite the election, Balfours Property Professionals has experienced a flying start to 2015 and as a result now seeks more stock.

Balfours letting agent, Charlotte George enthuses: “Our message to anyone sitting on a vacant property, excluding Downing Street, is that it could be achieving a significant income. Whether recently acquired through purchase, inheritance or as a result of partners living together, we would encourage owners to consider letting.

She adds: “There seems to be no let up, we have had a terrific few months with a high volume of properties being turned around quickly. Indeed we still have a significant number of good quality professional tenants on our waiting list.”

Charlotte says: “There is strong demand for properties all over the county ranging from one bedroom apartments to six bedroom farmhouses. There still remains a strong level of buy-to-let investors in the area who are experiencing a good yield and minimal void periods.”

“We expect the market to continue to get busier now as the weather improves and we move towards the end of the school year. Over the years we have found that these factors, combined with new job contracts, does increase movement in the rental market.

We can arrange a no obligation free market appraisal which would provide an accurate rental figure and in depth advice on terms and conditions. For more information call Charlotte at Balfours on 01743 277069.

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