The Harris family have been farming here for 100 years.
Henry Harris was one of thirteen children, he grew up on a farm in Dorset, and came to Sussex to start farming on his own in the 1920’s.
Henry took on a tenancy with The Crown Estate, and later with Brighton Corporation (now Brighton and Hove City Council) to farm some of their Downland estate, and established a traditional mixed farming business, producing milk, meat and grain, much as we do to this day, although the dairy herd went some years ago.
Henry Harris, our Grandad, brought up his family of six in Perching Manor, during the Second World War prisoners of war were brought into Henfield by lorry and then sent to live and work on farms. The Harris family had three Italians living in the cellar, and being paid a shilling a day (5p) to work on the farm. Later the family had a Latvian PoW, Rudolf, to look after. Rudolf decided after the war to not return home, and stayed working on the family farm until he died.
During the war, there was a real push to produce more food on our land; the “Dig for Victory” campaign encouraged farmers to produce more, so that we could be more self sufficient in what we needed to eat as a country. Quite a lot of the land on the Downs would have been ploughed up for the first time to grow cereals. Four of the Harris sons started their working life on the farm, but in the years after Grandad died in 1960, they went their separate ways, and one son, Brian, took on the family farm.
Henry Harris had a large team of farm workers, manual work, horses and small tractors and machinery would have been the order of the day. His son Brian invested in some big equipment, and through the 60’s and 70’s this farm was largely arable, producing wheat, barley and oats.
In the 1980’s there was a government push to put a lot of land on the Downs back into grass. We were part of the European Union, we had enough to eat, and didn’t need to be growing cereals on all this land. The Downs was classified as an environmentally sensitive area, and the farm was paid to plant grass where cereals had been grown. Cattle and sheep returned to the land to eat the grass, and produce meat – beef and lamb.
The family farming business continues to this day, when Brian died, his wife and two daughters set up a new business structure, B D Harris Farm Trust. With guidance from government’s Natural England, and specialist agri environment consultants, CLM, this farm was taken into stewardship. We did a baseline survey, carried out Environmental Impact Assessments were appropriate, identified important habitats that we must keep and nurture, and were encouraged to plough up some other land, to create the mosaic of habitat that you will now see across the farm.
Today the farm is managed by a small but highly committed team, that includes one of Brian’s loyal farm workers with us, he has been working and living on the farm since the 1960’s.