Water, Earth And Now Timber

LEADER funds help a rural Surrey Hills business to branch out

Bury Hill Fisheries, a magical quartet of angling lakes deep in the woods of the Barclay estate between Westcott and Dorking, is one of the best day ticket fisheries in England.

Branching out!But despite introducing an associated topsoil enterprise which produces the now famous “Bury Hill Black”, a high quality topsoil produced using siltings from the old lake, the viability of the family business fluctuates with the seasons, and entrepreneur David de Vere decided he needed a new project to plug the income gap.

From water and earth he turned to the woodland around the lakes for inspiration. And he has just been awarded a £25,000 LEADER grant to help set up a firewood processing  business to respond to the expanding demand for seasoned logs for the local domestic wood burner market. This is winter demand and therefore fits perfectly into his business portfolio.

The grant provides 40% of the cost of the project which involves creating an operating area, building a barn and equipping it with firewood processing machinery and tractor.

“Old Bury Hill Lake is 200 years old,” said David de Vere, “It started as a pleasure lake for Charles Barclay and when we came here 20 years ago it was a very intensive, run-down coarse fishery.

“We desilted it in 1992 and took out an extraordinary amount of liquid silt and in 2002 we began selling it to the topsoil trade as raw Surrey loam. It is extremely good as  top dressing for example for Lords Cricket Ground.”

De Vere developed the business by mixing the silt with sand and compost to create high quality Bury Hill Black and selling it to the domestic market.

Bury Hill Fishery“The one thing we have always come up against is the lack of a winter income,” he said. “We don’t cover our costs for staffing over the winter, and I don’t lay my staff off.  However we have about 80 acres of land, most of which is water and woodland and we have always done some firewood, but not commercially.

“We knew people were moving into wood burners and thought this would give us a winter market for bags of logs. This should consolidate our business and fill in the income hole. The LEADER grant is making this rural business viable.”

LEADER can provide up to 50% of the cost of a project, to a maximum of £50,000 per grant. The aim is to help the development of sustainable enterprises involving food, farming, woodland, community and tourism in the Surrey Hills LEADER area.

Details of the LEADER scheme can be found on the website: www.surreyhillsleaderbid.org.uk. Anyone interested in submitting a bid for a grant should begin by visiting the site and completing the expression of interest form. Contact Lauren Young on 0208 541 8697 or email surreyhillsleader@surreycc.gov.uk for advice.