All is peaceful and tranquil when you gaze around the beautiful landscape of Blenheim Palace.

It takes a lot of effort to create such serenity. In addition to which, the land has to ‘work’ in many different ways.

Making the very best of land is the role of a land manager and the 12,500 acre Blenheim Palace Estate is managed by Roy Cox, who has been Managing Director of Estates at Blenheim for the past 11 years.

Roy Cox of Blenheim Estates

Roy Cox

Land is the canvas

I asked Roy about his role and his responsibilities. He said: “It covers so much. Things which you might expect, for example bottled water, farming and forestry and managing World Heritage Site parkland, through to things you might not expect like our outdoor events and our goal of becoming a carbon neutral estate by 2027.”

“I mention outdoor events because very few activities in the UK economy can have such a positive impact on a local area like The Game Fair does. Because of it, all the nearby pubs, hotels and restaurants are booked out months in advance. Local businesses can thrive from the new footfall and there are some estimates putting its economic impact at nearly £40m.”

“Land management is so important at Blenheim Palace. Land is the canvas that touches so many people in the local area who view it as a shared back garden.”

Warming climate

I asked Roy what worries him. He replied: “Our warming climate is a very real concern today. It is changing the land and how we do such simple things like growing food or establishing new woodlands. We are learning fast but more needs to be done on changing weather patterns and how we can change the way we care for land to reduce our impact on this climate and give greater focus to biodiversity.”

Roy studied at Reading University. I wondered how have degree courses have changed in the last few decades. He replied:

“Today we are increasingly learning about how to place a value on nature and how that in turn affects our economy. Learning more about how nature directly affects our soil, air, water and green spaces shapes the way we care for land. That’s something that wasn’t being taught 30 years ago where land was focussed – rightly at the time – on how we provide cheap food in a subsidised world.

“This remains a key part of land management but increasingly we are seeing new businesses grow from caring for nature, generating renewable energy or increasing biodiversity. There’s more attention paid to how this can all link together to create the healthy countryside we know and love. Crucially as a result of this, the area where your business operates become more prosperous and vibrant.”

What about water health?

Water quality is an increasingly big concern. I asked Roy what steps were being taken at Blenheim to protect rivers and lakes.

“We try and take any land with a slope of 3-5 degrees (which creates a high risk of soil erosion) out of any form of crop production and instead turn it into woodland to stop loose soil and run off going into rivers.

“Where we have rivers running through our water meadows we deliberately try to reconnect them back to the old flood meadows so that silt disperses at high flow rates. By changing land use, we do our utmost to store more water in land, stop any nutrients flowing through the ground and soil eroding from the surface getting into our rivers.”

What would he like to see happen in an ideal world?

“We would have a patchwork quilt of land use in the countryside. Not necessarily the one which immediately springs to mind from story books. Rather a quilt that through every inch is relevant to the needs of today’s society. This includes areas sequestering and locking up carbon, fruit production providing labour for rural communities, livestock grazing biodiverse habitats, food production where it grows best and healthy woodlands in areas where we really need them.

“Combining this for a healthy landscape makes good business sense and begins to provide a future where land will become more important to the needs of our world.”

Essential kit

There’s some compelling new kit for land managers out there, much of which will be on display at The Game Fair. I asked Roy what equipment he was finding particularly interesting.

“We’ve just had a drone survey completed of our deer populations for the first time. We’ve used night vision with thermals before but it’s the first time we’ve used a drone. Some of the imagery I’ve seen has been quite enlightening and I’m looking forward to reading the survey results.”

Roy’s top five pieces of equipment

1. Our sheep at Blenheim. I’m not a fan of sheep really, but they care for our Heritage Site in a way no strimmer can.
2. The people I work with. We couldn’t care for a place like this today without them.
3. My laptop as it follows me everywhere.
4. My phone, with Google Earth!
5. My notepad.