John Duncan attended an RAF sponsored resettlement course at Bicton Agricultural College in Devon when he left the Service in 1980. The course was attended by a variety of personnel from all branches of the Armed Forces and included a cross-section from all ranks. Apart from learning about many aspects of the farming industry, John also unfortunately realised that he had no chance of buying or renting a farm and earning sufficient money to consider making farming a career at that time. He also spent a lot of time dipping sheep! He thinks the source of cheap labour provided courtesy of HM Government was too much for the staff to resist.
So, with agriculture a closed door for at least the time being, John pursued a career in the offshore oil and gas seismic exploration industry that culminated in forming his own company, Westland GeoProjects, in 1990. That company worked successfully in all parts of the globe but John never lost his interest in agriculture and in particular the need to protect valuable agricultural land in an uncertain future.
This led to the formation of a charity – Westland Countryside Stewards – that has the aim of protecting agricultural land in John’s local area of North Cornwall that might otherwise be lost to development. This charity’s mission continues today, and the example of creating Kilkhampton Common as an important nature conservation area free and open to the public is a proud example of its local success.
Driven by John’s interest in agriculture and conservation, the Westland GeoProjects pension fund invested in agricultural land around Bude and Kilkhampton. Unimpressed by the treatment that this land was receiving from the more intensive agriculture that local farmers are forced to pursue, at no fault of their own, by the economic climate in agriculture, John took the land back into his own management with the stated objective of turning the clock back to the 1960s. This means pursuing a regime that is less intensive but that might be an essential component of a sustainable land and animal management regime in the not too distant future when the products of the oil and gas industry decline. A subject close to John’s heart having run a company in the hydrocarbon exploration industry for more than 20 years.
The result is Westland Barton, a farming activity specialising in rare breeds and with a focus on sheep and goats. Pigs may be added to the mix soon too. Asked why he chose to work with sheep John replies “Probably because I’m stupid”. A phrase he has in fact stolen from another local sheep farmer in North Cornwall but minus an adjective that is best left to the imagination!
It should be noted that John is fully supported by his wife and family, who share his interest and ambitions and hope to continue to develop business and ideas long after John has hung up his wellingtons.
Originally trained as a Fine Artist, which was followed by a career working in the oil and gas industry, it was a total change of career path when Kelly had the opportunity to help run a smallholding alongside her father John Duncan.
Running a small holding is a continuous learning curve and Kelly has been active from the very beginning. It all started with a small flock of Balwen sheep, fast forward to the present and the holding is now established with a variety of rare breed sheep grazing on 70 plus acres of land in North Cornwall. “Our vision for the future now is to create a centre for rare breed excellence“. Kelly also promotes rare breed, Gotland and Gotland X Bluefaced Leicester fleece. “Wool has been in relative decline over the past few decades which has only made it more precious. We sell fleece direct from our farm”.
Kelly favours doing things a little differently on the land, she likes to encourage, improve and create more areas for wildlife and grazes the animals in a way that supports this. She is supported by her husband and two young children who are also equally inspired by the animals and are often seen helping around on the farm as well as getting covered in mud.
Kelly is also a trustee for the charity Westland Countryside Stewards.