Len’s hens

Some priv­i­leged chick­ens

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Nestling in the beau­ti­ful High Weald vil­lage of Bur­wash in East Sus­sex lies the Na­tional Trust prop­erty Bate­mans House and es­tate. It was the home of cel­e­brated writer Rud­yard Ki­pling, famed for both his nov­els, short sto­ries and po­ems alike, in­clud­ing Jun­gle Book, My boy Jack and If. More im­por­tantly, to chicken lovers, within the mag­nif­i­cent grounds live a flock of very priv­i­leged hens, owned by head gar­dener Len Ber­na­mont. These lucky ladies, when not con­fined dur­ing the re­cent avian flu re­stric­tions, en­joy the run of the mead­ows, or­chards and mill area, liv­ing a nat­u­ral free-range life and in­ter­act­ing with the vis­i­tors. For ob­vi­ous rea­sons, they don’t have ac­cess to the for­mal gar­dens!

Len’s flock is a nice mix of hy­brids and true breeds such as Cuckoo Marans, Light Sus­sex and Columbines to­gether with his most re­cent ad­di­tions, Buff Or­p­ing­tons. “Ev­ery day we get a lovely mix­ture of coloured eggs; some dark brown, some with speck­les and some un­usual green/blue ones,” he said. “With a good and var­ied diet, they are very tasty!”

“Al­low­ing our chick­ens to free range by the mill and in the wild gar­den is a very

tra­di­tional way of keep­ing hens and fits in per­fectly with our ‘Spirit of Place’. In the past, es­tate work­ers, gar­den­ers and, of course, the millers have all lived in the cot­tages by the mill and would have had their own area for grow­ing pro­duce, a small or­chard and some live­stock, in­clud­ing chick­ens and pigs. The hens, along with our bee­hives, are a great re­minder of this part of the Bate­mans story.”

I asked Len if Ki­pling had ever kept hens him­self? “We don’t know a great deal about whether or not Rud­yard Ki­pling had any­thing to do with keep­ing hens at Bate­mans in his time. How­ever, there is an old plan show­ing a chicken and duck pen in the gar­den near the Oast House, which was his garage for the Rolls Royce and is now our shop.” Given Ki­pling’s love of an­i­mals, every­one is sure that he would have, at the very least, shown an in­ter­est in the chick­ens and other farm an­i­mals based on the es­tate.

Len’s chick­ens have a dual use on the es­tate other than pro­duc­ing eggs. “To­day, we are see­ing many ben­e­fits to our hens free rang­ing. By scratch­ing around un­der trees and in the grass all year long, they have steadily been spread­ing bulb and wild flower seed and have been in­stru­men­tal in the marked in­crease in the flower con­tent in the Wild Gar­den in re­cent years. They also keep some of the nasty bugs from our fruit trees and, of course, are a great talk­ing point for our vis­i­tors. If you’re lucky, they’ll line up on one of the benches for a photo op­por­tu­nity, but they might try to steal some of your sandwich in re­turn. They don’t need feed­ing, though, as they get plenty of the right food from us and from the gar­den it­self, but ob­vi­ously it doesn’t stop them from try­ing!”

Since the avian flu re­stric­tions were lifted, the hens have gone back to fully free rang­ing within the mead­ows, amongst the bee­hives and ap­ple trees, and help­ing main­tain the way of life that was tra­di­tional in Ki­pling’s time - and carry on de­light­ing the many vis­i­tors with their an­tics. MORE: Bate­mans is open to the pub­lic most days ex­cept for Christ­mas. Sum­mer open­ing times are be­tween 10am & 5pm. See www.na­tion­al­trust.org.uk/ bate­mans for full details and es­tate events.

The chick­ens en­joy the run of the mead­ows, or­chards and mill area, liv­ing

a nat­u­ral free-range life and in­ter­act­ing with the vis­i­tors Manx Loagh­tan sheep grazing by the house at Bate­man’s, East Sus­sex

Head gar­dener Len Ber­na­mont

PIC­TURES: The hens are able to range free within the mead­ows, amongst the bee­hives and un­der the ap­ple trees at Bate­mans

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