Back in 2009, Kristin Syltevik and her partner Paul Dobson bought four farms in East Sussex. Little did they know then that less than ten years on, they would be the biggest organic wine growers in the UK; they now have 850 acres with 14 hectares of vineyards, making up 2.6 per cent of all planted vines across the country.

Oxney Estate has sustainability at its heart, and they have recently been nominated as the Best Green Company at the Celebration of Sussex Life Awards. They grow their vines organically before the grapes are pressed in their winery, a converted oast house on the edge of the vineyards. This means that from grape through to glass, the entire production process takes place on the farm. “Our wines are 100 per cent single estate,” Kristin says. “That way we’re in control of what we’re picking, and we can look after the vines ourselves.”

Their winemaker Ben Smith currently makes a Classic dry and fruity sparkling wine, as well as an Estate Rosé, but they plan to expand to still wines, too. The success of the estate rests not just on the hard work of Kristin and her team, but on the resources of the Sussex countryside itself.

“They say that site is everything when it comes to locating a vineyard in England because we are a very marginal climate,” Kristin says. Their positioning on the edge of the River Rother provides them with the optimum conditions for wine-making. “We have clay as our subsoil, which is a brilliant place for growing lots of vines, especially Pinot Noir,” she explains. Being 17 metres above sea level, it also benefits from a favourable warm climate.

Thanks to the fertile, sunny slopes, Oxney Estate’s yields are ever increasing. As well as being stocked in their on-site shop, their wines are on restaurant menus across the country.

Meet the macs

The cold weather that November brings has us all reminiscing about the incredible summer that we had this year. We loved the gorgeous weather, but it brought along its own challenges for our farm and our beloved wildlife.

Back in July, two baby barn owls had come down from their nest too early. Both were severely underweight and when the Barn Owl Trust weighed them, they could not believe that they were still alive. It’s very possible that the prolonged period of very hot and dry weather had subsequently dried up their food source, and that their parents were having trouble feeding themselves let alone their babies as well.

The trust ringed and registered them both, which is very important as it helps to monitor the survival rates of the birds and collects information about their movements. After this, it was then our job to set about handfeeding them back up. We were all so happy when they started eating well and putting on weight.

It is an honour to have these amazing owls on the farm and whenever we are lucky enough to see them it takes our breath away. It is so important to us that they never become domesticated. We only handled them when it was necessary and had minimal contact with them.

After five days (and with our fingers crossed), we returned them to their owl box. There had been no sign of Mum or Dad, so we spent many nights going out and watching them fly. After a while we stopped seeing them and we could only hope that they were surviving on their own.

Sadly, to date we know that one of the babies has died as it was found about a mile away from the farm. We hope the other one has made it but unless they are found we will never know for sure. We always try to protect our wildlife, but nature can be cruel, and we can only do our best. It is crazy how much our beautiful summers can have an impact on everything around us, and it is important for everybody to understand this.

If you find a ringed bird dead or alive, please enter the code online (search for BTO report a ringed bird).

Room to grow

Sompting Estate has teamed up with Sustainable Sussex, a local community organisation, to become the new location of the social enterprise Sussex Chilli Farm.

This is one of the many grassroots projects led by Sustainable Sussex, who work to provide employment for people who might typically find access to the workplace difficult as a result of learning disabilities or physical or mental health problems. Sussex Chilli Farm had originally been based at Worthing Leisure Centre, but thanks to £5,000 of funding from The Rampion Fund, Sustainable Sussex can grow the enterprise further. Keith Colin, the founder of Sustainable Sussex, says: “We are so grateful for the grant as it is giving us the opportunity to really engage with the Sompting community and integrate our mixed needs volunteers into an already diverse area.”

Sussex Chilli Farm will now be based at Sompting Community Farm, where there is already a 30ft greenhouse in place, and volunteers are in the process of building a polytunnel for growing the chillis.

Liane Webb, the founder of Sustainable Mind, another Sustainable Sussex project, says: “Our teaming up with Sompting Estate has offered us so much opportunity to expand our projects.”

The farm will also feature a Nature Trail and Community Orchard. Volunteers working on the estate carry out everything from planting the seeds through to making the jams and oils ready to sell at local markets and food festivals, such as the Lewes Chilli Fayre. “The effect on the volunteers is instant, even before we get out the minibus to tend to our chillis on the estate,” Liane says.

Input from the local community is also very important to the project, with the hope being that the farm will have a direct benefit on Sompting as a whole.

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