Among the handful of historic working farms in the UK, Acton Scott Farm is perhaps the best known. Shropshire Farm was the setting for the BBC series Victorian Farm, and generations of schoolchildren have visited the rolling hills of Shropshire to see the county horses plow the fields and the milkmaid milk the cows.
Still, the future of the farm is in serious doubt. The Shropshire Council, which operates the farm, closed it in June after an outbreak of E. coli and there are no plans to reopen it.
In the coming weeks, the council will launch a consultation inviting the public to come up with ideas on how to fund Acton Scott Farm, which it says is losing £ 168,000 a year.
But activists are desperate to ensure the survival of England’s first historic working farm, where workers in period costume demonstrate traditional skills and use horse-drawn plows to work the land and manage purebred cattle. rare.
Already, the villagers of Church Stretton fear the decision has been made.
The Shropshire council cabinet was due to consider an ‘options assessment’ in November, but the decision was delayed by the by-election sparked by Owen Paterson’s resignation as MP for North Shropshire. This month’s consultation was only announced after a local campaign had started.
Some of the farm animals have already been sold. The herd of six dwarf goats is gone. Of the five Gloucester Old Spot pigs, only two remain. Shropshire sheep, Dairy Shorthorn cattle and the pair of magnificent county horses remain, as do ducks, geese and chickens, although they are locked up to avoid infection with bird flu. The Shropshire Council said the animals are sold on a regular basis as part of the farm’s inventory management program and the majority of rare purebred animals have remained.
The campaign to save the farm was started by Alice Walker, a bartender in Church Stretton who has been a regular visitor since she was a child.
“It’s a really special place,” she says. “You can see them tie up the horses and plow the ground, then drill it with old drills. We have visitors from all over – Australia, America – there is a large Canadian audience.
The farm was founded in 1975 by Tom Acton, whose family has owned the farm for over 900 years. His ancestor, Richard Acton, built the family’s Elizabethan mansion in 1580.
Acton, who died last year at the age of 95, had been keen to keep traditional farming methods and built a collection of Victorian planters and plows.
He was chosen by the BBC for Victorian Farm, a series retracing a year when historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn lived on the farm reliving the experience of Victorian farmers. The farm also offers training and qualifications in traditional rural trades and crafts, from stone masonry to carpentry, and Walker did an NVQ there when she was young.
“We started to hear whispers,” Walker said. “We had the Covid closures, then the E. coli epidemic. I thought it was going off the radar and could have shut down without anyone realizing it was even an option. So I created a group.
“I thought it would be my mom and I screaming in a room, but we had 1,000 Facebook members in less than a month.”
The group received all kinds of support – from a woman whose mother donated her old English game chickens to the farm when it opened up to people whose grandfather was educated at school.
The Rare Breed Survival Trust has also offered its support, and managing director Christopher Price wrote to the board last month, urging them to “ensure the farm remains protected for the future”.
the E. coli the June outbreak involved two visits and a health and safety council report recommended ‘essential work’ costing £ 130,000.
Shropshire Council said the number of visitors peaked at around 45,000 per year in 2009, when Victorian Farm broadcast for the first time. However, since then the number has fallen to an average of 20,000 per year since 2014, the council said.
A spokesperson said: “Shropshire Council, like many other local authorities, faces an extremely difficult financial future and it is in this climate that an options assessment was undertaken to determine whether an alternative model commercially viable is feasible. “
Cecilia Motley, Cabinet Member of the Shropshire Council for Communities, Culture, Leisure and Tourism, and Transport, said: ‘The Shropshire Council recognizes the value Acton Scott holds for many people and s’ is committed to supporting landowners and the local community over the coming months and we look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions when we open the discussion in the New Year.
Francis Acton, for the Acton Scott Estate, said: “It is clear that there is a great community that has a great affection for the historic working farm. The Acton family will support the consultation and work with Shropshire Council to explore future options. “