Decision time for college farm

By in Education

A KEY meeting in two weeks’ time will help decide the future of West Somerset College farm – with its fate still hanging in the balance.

Its emergency steering group will meet on May 4 to discuss the way forward from September - but future development plans will be hit if a buyer for the farm’s animals cannot be found by the end of June.

The farm has a small but dedicated team working flat out to look after the land and animals for the benefit of the local community, students, and local businesses.

It was temporarily saved when Exmoor National Park Authority stepped in with a £20,000 grant in August last year, and the Bridgwater College Trust, which West Somerset College is part of, is keeping the farm going until September this year.

The trust found the farm was too expensive to retain after it inherited a £1.6m deficit when it took over the running of the college.

Now Alyson Claydon-Mills, business development officer for the trust, is hoping someone will come forward who wants to buy the animals and work in partnership with the farm.

“We can’t afford to let such a rural gem decline,” she said.

“We need to look at doing other things, similar to how farmers have had to diversify.

“Absolutely everybody can benefit from this farm – it’s educational, it’s therapeutic, it’s part of the local food chain with top end restaurants and pubs, and helpful for tourism.

“We have to find a solution - if not, the animals will be gone by the end of June, and we can’t do what we want to do if there are no animals.”

The farm currently has 45 Exmoor Horn and Exmoor Mule ewes and 55 lambs, ten Ruby Red breeding cows and two calves with a third on the way.

It has had its first litter of seven piglets, and there are numerous free range chickens for both laying and table, as well as ducks.

Exmoor Beekeepers’ Association has 15 hives on the farm and the group is training local people to keep their own bees. There are also a number of exotic animals including spiders, snakes, tortoises and lizards.

Two farm technicians, one full-time the other part-time, “work tirelessly” to keep the farm going but their jobs were now under threat, Mrs Claydon-Mills said.

Full story in the Free Press (April 21)