Estate manager Sarah Exton tells us all about her role

Continuing our series of Q&As with Shadwell's valued team members
Sustainability is the watchword for Shadwell’s estate manager Sarah Exton

Tell us a little bit about your role at Shadwell.

As the estate manager at Shadwell my job is hugely varied. On any one day I can be dealing with a planning application or investigating a commercial opportunity, and then later surveying arable fields or woodland belts.

Essentially, I deal with most property and land-related issues outside of the studs. That encompasses everything from woodland management to dealing with our farming tenant, negotiating access issues with neighbouring landowners, identifying potential income streams and/or efficiencies, and dealing with third parties and government bodies such as Anglian Water, UK Power Networks, local councils and parish councils, Historic England, Natural England and so on.

The estate is made up of a number of key people that make up the main departments for the smooth running of the estate and the studs, including our health and safety department, vehicle workshop, building maintenance department, purchasing department, gardens department, housekeeping and forestry, which all run alongside the stud yards and Shadwell’s game department.

How big is the Shadwell Estate and how is all of the land used apart from bloodstock?

Shadwell Estate is a large estate at 6,270 acres, of which horse paddocks make up approximately 10% of that area. The remainder of the estate is split between forestry, land let to our farming tenant, parkland, heathland and land used for the shoot.

Shadwell has a significant housing stock and encompasses a number of other uses including greenhouses, farming and environmental schemes. Shadwell as a whole also includes several other farms across East Anglia which are utilised for the stud farm.

How did you come about your role at Shadwell, and have you always had an interest in estate management?

I’ve always enjoyed the countryside. As a teenager I wanted to be a beef and sheep farmer, but quite quickly became interested in rural estates, and the intricacies of how an estate worked.

After school I undertook a National Diploma in Countryside Management and then went on to study Rural Estate and Land Management at Harper Adams University College in Shropshire.

From there I undertook a placement year on the Buccleuch Estates in the Scottish Borders and never looked back. After seven years progressing at Buccleuch, I eventually found myself seeking a warmer and dryer climate a bit closer to family, and came to Shadwell just over three years ago.

Shadwell encompasses so many different areas, but which gives you most enjoyment and who do you work most closely with?

I enjoy estate management because of the people I get to work with, and the need for people with completely different jobs and roles to work together to make the estate work.

Everyone I work with at Shadwell has ideas and thoughts which can make the estate more efficient or better for those living or working here. Helping to achieve or deliver on those ideas is exciting for me.

Working with people to achieve something, even small improvements, is what gives me the most pleasure.

The job is hugely varied, which means I get to deal with departments across the estate and across Shadwell. I get a huge amount of support from everyone in the estate teams, who I rely upon hugely as experts of their own departments and their roles in their teams.

Did you have an interest in racing before working for Shadwell?

I hadn’t ever actually been to the races before I came to Shadwell – except our local hunt point-to-points. Since joining Shadwell, I’ve taken every opportunity to attend race meetings and learn as much as I can about the sport, and to support Shadwell’s horses.

How has Covid impacted your role at Shadwell?

Initially Covid had a huge impact on everyone, as it was such a new, unknown situation. I spent a lot of time last spring working from home.

What might seem like the small loss of having a quick chat while the kettle boiled, and just asking about someone’s weekend plans, had a real impact on a lot of people including me personally.

I’ve quickly learned that I’m motivated by the people around me, and that my job is all about relationships. Developing those cannot be done over the phone or email. I will be very glad when everyone is back in the office full time!

How would someone go about pursuing a career in estate management?

Estate management or rural surveying can be a very varied career. From dealing with day-to-day land and property management issues or becoming more involved in the detail of negotiations and project development, it can be a very satisfying job.

I undertook a degree at Harper Adams University College in Rural Estate and Land Management. I have since qualified as a Chartered Surveyor with the RICS and I’m a Fellow of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers.

There are many ways of getting into estate management and I would be happy to speak to anyone wanting to enter a career in rural surveying. It’s a great career and continuously changing, and the more varied talent we can get into the industry the more we can develop it for the better.

Sustainability is so important nowadays; how does Shadwell apply that to land management?

Sustainability is not only the management of energy and water resources, but also of habitat and ecosystems. Due to Shadwell’s size we’re lucky enough to have pockets of stud land surrounded by significant areas of farmland, woodland and areas of semi-natural habitat to support those eco-systems.

We’re very lucky to have a game department whose focus on habitat management has achieved key results for the Brecks [the area in Suffolk and south Norfolk on which the Shadwell Estate is situated].

Over the past 30 years Shadwell has invested significantly to encourage Stone Curlew and Common Curlew along with many other ground nesting birds and Brecks species, and as a result there is more wildlife on Shadwell than anywhere I have ever known.

The Brettenham Heath National Nature Reserve is managed by Shadwell in partnership with Natural England and we’re continually working with students from the University of East Anglia to study these species. The Brecks are a very specific habitat, and their geology means the habitats here are different to anywhere else in the country.

Many species that live here that can only be supported here, and Shadwell have always gone above and beyond to support those habitats in its role as land manager for this estate.

We’re currently investigating carbon accounting as a principle not only to identify our carbon footprint, but also business efficiencies. We’re continually exploring renewable energy schemes and ways to make the housing stock and commercial buildings more energy efficient, as well as water saving and recycling schemes. These are all things that we are investigating alongside everything else we do as a matter of course.

Sustainability will soon become a priority for every business in the industry, as part of the government’s Environment Bill.

Give us a couple of Shadwell horses to follow.

My Shadwell ten to follow is probably not the most expertly picked, but who could have failed to be impressed by AL AASY winning the John Porter Stakes and Aston Park Stakes in a canter in recent months? I’m really looking forward to seeing him in the Coronation Cup.

ZEYAADAH could also give Shadwell a good day at Epsom, as she looks to hold a leading chance in the Oaks. She ran well in the Cheshire Oaks despite not getting a clear run at a vital time, and having to concede 3lb to the winner with her Listed penalty.

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