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Swalcliffe Estate – a family affair

Three generations of the Taylor family live and work side by side on the beautiful 480-hectare Swalcliffe Estate in Oxfordshire, combining their…

Three generations of the Taylor family live and work side by side on the beautiful 480-hectare Swalcliffe Estate in Oxfordshire, combining their individual skills and passions in a diverse, thriving, award-winning operation that has family values at its heart. 

Swalcliffe Grange has been a working farm for more than a century. Now in its fourth generation of Taylors, it was originally owned by Mike Taylor’s grandfather. With its roots firmly in traditional livestock, grassland and arable farming, Mike farmed alongside his father up until 1978, when he and his wife Barbara bought the farm. 

Mike and Barbara Taylor are exceptional visionaries and proof that effective future planning balanced alongside a focus on family values and relationships really does work. By playing to the strengths of each member of their family, traditional and emerging farming practices work hand in hand for long term sustainability. 

Succeeding at succession 

Whilst Mike and Barbara’s children Richard, James and Victoria were growing up at Swalcliffe in the 1980s and 1990s, they always had in mind the future of the estate, farm and their children, nurturing the individual passions, interests and abilities of each of their offspring. 

From a young age, Richard was always passionate about animals and farming. Particularly in his teenage years, horses became his number one interest, which led him to create and build cross country courses. Working in partnership with internationally renowned course designer David Evans, Richard has built courses all over the world, including at the Beijing Olympics. 

Eldest son James excelled at school and sport, and was keen to spread his wings. He graduated with a business degree and pursued a city-based career, but soon realised the relevance for his business acumen at the family farm, so returned to Swalcliffe to help manage and develop day to day operations.  

Victoria carved a name for herself as a professional chef. In 2007, she returned to Swalcliffe and launched her own business, Miss T, which she runs from the estate’s Stourwell Farm, catering for events of all sizes, from intimate dinner parties for clients in their homes, to mass catering for corporate events, including Swalcliffe’s programme of equine events.  

New beginnings 

As the Taylor family began to grow, with both James and Richard getting married and having children, Mike and Barbara looked to put their future plans in action, with land, property and succession planning advice from Lodders’ Rod Bird. 

“Parcels of land at Swalcliffe were divided up and transferred to Richard and James, with the aim of giving them the resource and opportunity to further develop their own businesses,” explain Mike and Barbara, who relocated to a new home just a mile from the estate. 

Richard and Sarah moved into Swalcliffe Grange, which has become the engine room for the equine business, livery yard, the packed programme of Hunter Trials, British Eventing and British Riding Club events and championships. Richard also manages Swalcliffe’s grassland, the beef herd and Grange Farm Beef business that has spawned the fledgling ‘beef boxes’ venture. 

They share a great love of horses and the countryside. Sarah is a keen horsewoman, and has spent her career in the horse world, working for British Horse Society, as Operations Director at The Moreton Show, and as part of the Your Horse Live show event team, whilst working alongside Richard to manage Swalcliffe Equestrian and its events. 

James, his wife Emma and their children Max and Olivia, moved into Stourwell Barn, from where they manage the arable farming activities, and launched Swalcliffe’s newest venture, Stour Energy.  

Diversification 

Based around a large scale anaerobic digester (AD), the site includes a ‘mechanical cow’ that is ‘fed’ each hour with a mix of maize, rye and grass grown on the farm, and chicken manure. The AD processes this and generates heat that is turned into electricity used around the farm, with the remainder sold to National Grid. 

“I had been looking to diversify operations with a viable business that would generate additional income,” explains James. “I first considered building an anaerobic digester plant ten years before, but rekindled my research and then plans when the government introduced the new tariff in 2012. 

“The AD was the ideal solution that would complement our traditional farming, whilst set us on the right path towards self-sufficiency.” 

 James and Emma worked closely with their chosen contractor to oversee the installation of the plant which has now been running since late 2014. 

“The AD process fits in well with the farming, and the power it generates is used across the estate. 

“It also powers a large drying barn, which we use to dry woodchip, used in biomass boilers for example, for local businesses – something we hadn’t anticipated but a great additional side business.” 

Handing over the baton 

The Taylor family is keeping an eye on its next generation, with James and Emma’s son Max already showing a keen interest in farming. With the support of such a warm, capable and talented family, Swalcliffe’s success and innovation is set to continue for generations to come. 

Fast Facts: 

Swalcliffe Farm won the top awards for both Small and Medium Sized Farms in the 2017 Banbury Agricultural Awards, and the overall Championship Awards for the fourth time in 20 years. 

The Taylors family today operate seven businesses on the Swalcliffe Estate: 

  • Grange Farm Beef – a grass-fed herd of Aberdeen Angus, producing 12-day dry-aged premium quality beef, prepared by a local butcher and delivered directly to customers. 
  • Swalcliffe Equestrian Park – established in 1998, with over 100 cross country fences built by Richard Taylor, renowned Olympic course builder. It hosts 11 major events each year, including British Eventing Horse Trials, British Riding Club National Club Championships, and several Pony Club events. 
  • DIY Livery yard – with 12 stables used by amateur as well as professional dressage and event riders. 
  • Miss T Catering – run by professional caterer Victoria Taylor, specialising in catering for private clients, small dinner parties, weddings, christenings, and major corporate events. Victoria bakes 100 cakes a week for Wycombe Park Farm Shops. 
  • Arable farming – including Oil Seed Rape and maize.  
  • Grass farming – producing hay for Swalcliffe’s livery business and equestrian events and silage sold to local businesses and farming enterprises. 
  • Stour Energy – a state of the art Anaerobic Digester that is one of only 500 in the UK.  

Swalcliffe in numbers: 

  • 7 businesses 
  • 3 generations 
  • 480 hectares 
  • 500 horses and riders compete in Swalcliffe’s flagship annual 2-day competition for British Eventing  
  • Richard’s site team construct 435 temporary stables for the 600 competitors at the annual 3-day British Riding Club National Club Championships  
  • The Stour Energy anaerobic digester (AD) business, is one of only 500 similar operations in the whole of the UK and produces 500kw of electricity every 24 hours, 7 days a week 
  • The Taylor family has 3 dogs – Tilly (terrier), Bramble (black Labrador) and Bracken (golden Labrador) – and 2 geese, named Ping and Pong by James and Emma’s children Max and Olivia.