Suffolk dairy farm given new lease of life as tourism venture takes off
PUBLISHED: 15:41 06 April 2018 | UPDATED: 15:41 06 April 2018
Rendham dairy farmers James and Emma Strachan launched Birds & Bees Campsite last year, but this year will be their first full season. They spoke to Sarah Chambers
Diversification is in the blood for former dairy farming family the Strachans at Rendham, near Framlingham.
Birds & Bees Campsite, run by James and Emma Strachan, is just one in a long line of successful businesses developed by the family, originally to augment the dairy farm income, from creating a milk brand and a celebrated ice cream brand to running a bed and breakfast and providing a home for three wind turbines, to this latest venture.
Now the 100 milking cows (or all but one) are gone, but the entrepreneurial spirit remains intact.
“We have several different lines of diversification related to the farming practices, Birds & Bees is the latest,” explained James.
Launched in July this year, the eco campsite is set in the heart of Suffolk’s Alde Valley on an idyllic 3.2ha patch of the 80ha farm.
“We were granted planning permission in January 2017 and it was important to the project that we opened the gates in time for the summer holidays on July 21. We stayed open for eight weeks until September 17,” said James. Now the site has opened for its first full season, starting from the Easter holidays.
“Preparation has been the key for us, we researched ideas for around 18 months, visiting different sites, speaking to campsite owners and their customers to find out what points of difference are the most appealing.
“Although not everything was finished for opening, the bookings came in overwhelmingly fast and by our second weekend we were fully booked for every weekend. Weekdays filled up pretty quickly too. So perhaps the hardest thing for us was being full from the start, a steep learning curve, but one we thoroughly enjoyed and adjusted to after a couple of weeks.”
Taking on such a project is a real leap of faith, admitted James.
“There is always an element of doubt in your mind – perhaps that’s what pushes you to prepare as much as possible. Other than that we’re really happy with how the first season went.”
So much so that by the end of their third season they are hoping the turnover will contribute a quarter of overall earnings within the farming enterprise.
James’ parents, David and Colette, and sister, Katherine, are all involved in various farm enterprises, and Emma is also a professional veterinary physio. Colette runs a well-established bed and breakfast business at Rendham Hall, which features on FarmStay and TripAdvisor.
“We took this direction because our outlook had changed, not the other way around. We were looking of ways to simplify our business by using the assets available in a different way,” explained James.
Family tragedy caused the couple to reassess, and to look at the business with new eyes, resulting in the sale of the herd and a focus on “keeping things simple”.
“We all had a little crumpling moment when we came back from the sale but other than that, I don’t think we have had any regrets at all,” said James. “Our farm had been a dairy farm for decades and we were lucky that the lay of the land suited the secluded and nature filled experience that we believed people are looking for. We also wanted an environment that our children could be involved with us on a daily basis. We’ve worked with the public in our other ways and we love the experience of welcoming people here to share and enjoy what we’ve created. Of course it takes some effort but we feel ours has been rewarded already, with over 500 guests staying through the first eight weeks and dozens of five star reviews. It’s been a really heart-warming experience.”
Renovating the old dairy buildings was the most costly part of the set-up, but James dedicated six months to it with support from the family, a tight budget and some favours from friends. It meant as well as spacious pitches and campfires, guests can enjoy quality kitchen, toilet and shower facilities.
“Anything worthwhile is going to be a challenge and this venture was no different,” said James.