• Thomas Sheils

How green is Sandringham Estate?

In our previous article, we used publicly available data (including satellite imagery, Natural England Priority Habitat Inventories (PHI) and local knowledge) to estimate that just 12% of Sandringham Estate has been put aside for priority habitat (i.e. habitat with the highest ecological value in the UK). This number seems very low, and we believe that this does not capture the full extent of conservation efforts at the estate. In this article, we will try to answer the broader question: how green is Sandringham Estate?

This research relied on several key sources of public data

  • The boundary map of Sandringham Estate, developed by WON using INSPIRE ID data - link here

  • Natural England PHI - link here

  • Forestry Commission National Forest Inventory GB 2018 - link here

  • Conservation efforts listed on the Sandringham Estate website - link here

  • Local knowledge

As stated before, our research indicates that 12% of the estate is put aside for priority habitats. However, combining this data set with satellite imagery indicated that whilst this data set is very useful, it is not complete and in some cases is out of date. In particular, this data missed important conservation-focussed land uses, such as field margins and other areas that are left as uncultivated land for nature without being considered priority habitat.

We therefore needed to rely on other data points to get a full picture of conservation efforts taking place at the Site. Mapping the whole estate manually using satellite imagery tools such as Google Earth or Google Engine would have been excessively time consuming for our small team. To answer the question we instead had to use a mix of data publicly disclosed by Sandringham Estate and Who Owns Norfolk. Where possible, we compared these against each other to assess whether they were accurate.

How we calculated this data, and the sources we used for each data point, can be found in this publicly available Google Sheets (see the tab “How Green is Sandringham”).

A summary of our results can be found in the table below:

Ecologically Valuable Habitat

WON used the loosely defined term “Ecologically Valuable Habitat” to indicate areas of Sandringham that had likely been put aside for natural or semi-natural habitat.. 1,245 hectares (15.41%) of Sandringham Estate is woodland (excluding woodland in the estate parkland surrounding Sandringham House and Anmer Hall). However, some of this will be commercial forestry, which may be of lower ecological value (think monoculture commercial conifer plantations). To help get a more accurate figure of how much of this woodland is ecologically valuable without site visits, we used maps of priority woodland habitat (deciduous) and ancient woodland developed by Natural England to see how much of this woodland is high value ecologically. This figure came out at 496 hectares (6.14%).

WON used satellite imagery and Natural England’s PHI to estimate that 210 hectares (2.6%) of the estate is parkland, with the gardens of Sandringham House and Anmer Hall likely hosting a broad range of ecologically valuable features.

Sandringham Estate’s conservation webpage indicates that 200 hectares (2.48%) is put aside for non-wooded uncultivated, semi-wild land. This is roughly in line with WON’s calculations using PHI data. This webpage also states that 160 hectares of land (1.98%) is put aside for wild bird cover; WON has used this as a proxy value for the total size of field margins on the estate.

Nature Friendly Farming

WON estimates that the total area of land put aside for ecologically valuable habitat at Sandringham Estate is 1,067 hectares (13.2%). This is low. However, the estate’s recent conservation efforts have concentrated on converting its farmland to nature friendly (organic) farming methods. The Sandringham Estate webpage estimates that of its 6,400 hectares of farmland, 4,000 is leased to tenant farmers, whilst 2,400 is directly managed by the estate. The estate claims that all of this farmland (roughly 30% of the total estate) has now been converted to organic farming.

How green is Sandringham Estate?

So, how green is Sandringham Estate? We can now estimate that 13% of Sandringham Estate has been put aside for ecologically valuable natural or semi-natural habitat, whilst 30% is now farmed using nature friendly farming methods. Whether you see the estate as green or not ultimately depends on how you view the trade off between nature friendly farming and leaving land aside primarily for natural habitat.

WON believes that organic farming is hugely beneficial to wildlife, and the estate should be commended for this. It will have a huge boost for Norfolk’s nature. However, the Wildlife Trusts estimate that 30% of land needs to be protected for nature by 2030 to reverse the ongoing devastating loss of wildlife. As we have argued before, the Royal Family is uniquely positioned amongst Norfolk’s landowners to turn their land holdings into conservation flagship projects. Given their resources, the Royal Family could reduce the commercial output of Sandringham and still remain, by anyone’s standards, very affluent. Even if the estate stopped farming all of its non-leased land, it would presumably still make a large amount from leasing 4,000 hectares to other farmers.

The Royal Family talks the talk as a family of environmental activists. However, they now need to walk the walk with their own land holdings, sacrificing some of their considerable income in order to turn more of their land over to natural or semi-natural habitat. Nearby landowners are showing them how this can be done; Ken Hill Estate in Snettisham, for example, is rewilding 40% of its land.

37 views0 comments