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Gilston

Young Red Squirrel

History

The Gilston Estate belongs to the Baxter family, Dundee industrialists who in the 19th Century had a flax spinning and weaving business. The Estate was originally formed around 1800 by Col David Dewar who with East India money acquired three neighbouring farms and commissioned Robert Balfour, a local architect based in St Andrews, to build him a “modern” mansion house. After his death the Estate passed to James Wyld, a Leith merchant. He planted many of the beech shelter belts on the Estate, built the farm steadings and drained the fields. His son sold it in turn in 1862 to Edward Baxter the Dundee merchant who was Robert Fleming's first employer. Edward had bought it for his 2nd son, J.H.Baxter.

The original Balfour house was much extended in 1879 by J.H. Baxter using the Elie architect John Currie. J.H.Baxter also built a substantial stable block in 1875, now converted for housing and rented out to long term tenants. Modern faming means that many of the other houses and cottages on the Estate are no longer needed to house farm and Estate workers and these are also let out to long term tenants.

Today the Gilston Estate belongs to Edward Baxter, great, great grandson of the first Edward Baxter and he lives here with his young family.

 

The Business

Farming activity is centred on Gilston Mains, a mixed farm – that is to say arable land growing crops such as wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape as well as grassland for rearing sheep and cattle. 3 people work full time on the farm which includes land belonging to the Baxter family and land belonging to our neighbours. This is typical of a modern farming business, which will often include a mixture of owned land, land rented from others and land farmed under contract, where work is done for other farmers. The total area farmed is over 2,000 acres or more than 5 sq miles. On this land we grow 4,500 tonnes of cereals every year almost all for local markets. In addition to the farm staff there are 3 other full-time employees looking after the let properties, the woodland and field boundaries; fences, walls and hedges. They help out at harvest and busy times on the farm as well.

Gilston is L.E.A.F. Demonstration Farm. LEAF stands for “Linking Environment and Farming”, and is a charitable organisation working to develop and promote Integrated Farm Management (IFM) – common sense farming practices that are both financially viable and environmentally responsible. More information about LEAF is available on their website www.leafuk.org

 

The Land

Gilston Mains is 600’ above sea level, which is high for Fife. Although the land is very fertile, typical of land where there are coal measures, the height restricts the range of crops we can grow. We couldn’t grow strawberries for example. Most crops are sown before the winter giving them longer to grow and reach maturity. Crops are grown using the principles of Integrated Farm management; that is to use just enough pesticide to keep them clean, healthy and free of disease and just enough fertiliser to make sure that we have the optimum yield.

The grassland at Gilston is largely in fields that are too steep, too stony or too wet to plough, although they all grew crops at some time in the past. Modern machinery needs big regular sized and shaped fields to operate efficiently. Too much time and fuel is wasted otherwise. The grass is sown with many different species designed to give the cattle a complete diet, including clover, which fixes Nitrogen from the atmosphere and feeds the grass. Grass is a crop too.

The Estate is an important environmental resource. For 5 generations the Baxter Family have planted and maintained their woodland, which has a huge impact on the landscape. In the 18th Century there were no trees here and the first woods were only planted in 1840. They are mixed woodland: coniferous (softwoods) for making paper, fence posts, pallets and chipboard and hardwoods mostly beech and scychamore, predominately for firewood. The woods are very important for shelter for the wildlife within them and for the animals and crops in the fields between them.

In the last 20 years a further 75,000 tress have been planted, 56 acres have been converted to bog and marsh, rich now in waders and rare marsh plants. There is an extensive network of mature hedges and some planted over the last decade.  Recent work includes establishing all-year round cover on arable field margins to give rare farmland birds protection from voracious aerial predators.

The Estate is an excellent example of how IFM balances the economic production of food with positive environmental management.

"The Estate is an excellent example of how IFM balances the economic production of food with positive environmental management."