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Queen stokes quality divide in UK farmland market

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The strategy of prioritising the purchase of high-quality land in the UK must be right – even Queen Elizabeth II is doing it.

The Duchy of Lancaster, confirming the purchase of a further 560 acres of high-grade farmland in Lincolnshire in eastern England in the latest part of a £19m programme, said that its appetite for such deals was still not exhausted.

"Further funds are available for investment in similar quality farmland in England and Wales," said Philip Coles, rural surveyor of lands for the Duchy, from which the Queen is entitled to income, if not to capital gains.

Scottish land is not on the radar – although this is down to management policy rather than any issues related to potential Scottish independence, on which there is a vote in September.

"The Duchy does not what to own land piecemeal, which makes it more difficult to manage," a spokesperson told, but rather hold contiguous plots, around the areas such as Lincolnshire, Cheshire and Lancashire in England, and near Swansea in Wales, where it already has farms.

'Very good quality soils'

Mr Coles said that the latest purchase, Quadring Fen Farm, is of "very good quality silt soils of Grade II and II character", the top classifications.

Indeed, the Duchy, which owns 18,700 acres overall, has made purchases of higher quality farmland its priority under a drive announced in 2010 to extend its ownership "for the preserve of the UK farming industry".

The Duchy, which rents out its land to tenants rather than farming itself, has now bought 1,870 acres in Lincolnshire under the programme, implying an average of some £10,000 an acre – well above average prices, estimated at £6,882 an acre by Knight Frank.

Varied market

However, this estimate is for bare land, and disguises wide variation between different grades, with the property consultancy saying earlier this month that "large blocks of investment-grade arable land that do come to the market, either publicly or privately, are changing hands for significantly higher sums".

Rival consultancy Savills estimates average land in the east of England, including Lincolnshire, at £9,200 an acre – more than twice the price of the average Scottish farmland.

Savills said that while buyers' motives for buying land last year had been "varied, for most their land choice and location were not.

"This has led to high sale prices for prime arable land in the East but weaker or zero growth for predominantly livestock farms."

Prices of high quality arable land will "show steady increases over the next five years", Savills forecast.

Duchy vs Crown

The Duchy of Lancaster - a separate entity to the Crown Estate which owns high profile holdings such as London's Regent's Street, and shopping centre from Newcastle to Portsmouth – dates from the 13th century and a grant of land made by King Henry III to his son, Edmund.

Henry IV laid down that the Duchy should be kept separately from other Crown possessions, in an effort to ensure his successors a nest egg should they lose the throne.


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