Ed Barnston

Ed Barnston

After commissioning from Sandhurst I spent six years in the army half of which was serving with Commando forces operating worldwide.  At that time I met Kate from New Zealand and I left the army to get married and we moved to Auckland.  Whilst overseas I retrained and became an investment manager working for ABN AMRO and Investec.

We now have two boys, William and George, and we returned home to England in order so Kate and I could take over the running of the family estate.  Barnston Estate comprises 1,800 acres with multiple farms, forestry operations, renewable energy interests, a business park, residential lets and land development which provides local housing and employment for 200 people. The latest project is a 60 point rotary parlour and dairy expansion which will create one of the most technologically advanced and efficient farms in the country.  The estate now produces in excess of 16 million litres of milk a year.

In addition, I sit on the national council for the Country Landowners and Business Association to try and shape DEFRA Policy to promote business in the rural economy, am a governor of the Oldfield Educational Trust overseeing the management of six Cheshire farms, and am also a school governor for an independent day school for 500 children. 

I’m enormously grateful for the support from my generous sponsors ‘The Worshipful Company of Farmers’ and ‘Savills’ for their input to make my endeavours possible in the first place.


Study Overview

The aim of this report is twofold. Firstly, to consider what makes Rural Estates successful regardless of size or geography. Secondly, to examine different benchmarking methodologies used by successful Rural Estates to account for the ‘total contribution of land stewardship’. These performance measurements take not just the ‘bottom line’ of finances, but an integrated approach to account for both the natural capital and the social capital, known as the ‘Triple Bottom Line’.

The purpose in showcasing different Rural Estate methodologies would be to assist me at home in a personal capacity, but also to share this knowledge with the whole rural sector. Currently most land management firms in the UK are simply unable to account for the performance of an Estate, yet that is their client’s greatest asset. ‘If you can’t measure, you can’t manage’.

The impact of sharing the knowledge in this report will, I hope, help to shape the future of the land management industry in the UK. My findings will ideally lead to greater accountability between professional adviser and client, a link between input and impact and the promotion of best practice across the rural sector.

My travels led me to examine a land management sector covering in excess of 1,500,000 acres across the world: speaking with land management lecturers, land agents and land owners; and also with industry policy influencers and policy makers.

Discussions on different benchmarking methodologies and key performance indicators were explored in both the public and private sector to gain a broader appreciation and find what would be most relevant to Estate managers in order to capture the financial, social and natural capital factors.

The key recommendation from this report is that a radical rethink is required for the rural land management sector to implement integrated benchmarking for their clients. The lesson learnt time and time again from all the countries I visited is: the very best Estates regularly examine their performance, and some also use bespoke, whole-Estate reporting. Moreover, these same successful Estates display very similar processes and traits.

In their process they have a masterplan which documents their vision and values; there is purpose and they understand their ‘why’; they use data and analysis for evidence-based decision making; and are unafraid to be self-critical in their strive to be continually improving.

Common traits include a restless entrepreneurial mindset; they are leaders but also collaborators; they are aspirational; they challenge the status quo; are place shapers; are positive disrupters; feel comfortable with risk but are reward-hungry; and embrace the role of integrated reporting across the triple bottom line.

For these Estates to breathe essential economic oxygen into rural communities to create houses and jobs, yet enhance the environment and still remain profitable, is dependent on their total contribution across both quantitative and qualitative means to become more efficient and therefore more effective. This is surely a healthy recipe for sustainable and long term land stewardship for any Rural Estate.

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