Coast marsh grazing auction has deep roots

Durrants 2016 Marsh lettings auction will be taking place at the Bell pub in St Olaves in March. Dur

Durrants 2016 Marsh lettings auction will be taking place at the Bell pub in St Olaves in March. Durrants have been running these important social farming auctions for over 150 years. Nick Durrant (left) and Nicholas Rudge (right) another of the present Durrant Directors auction the marshes and continue the tradition. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

Bidders are set to travel from as far as Kent and south Essex to take part in a celebrated annual auction, which takes place at a village pub between Beccles and Great Yarmouth next month.

Durrants’ marsh lettings sale can trace its roots back to the 19th century, and sets the tone for the rental value of the region’s grazing land.

The family firm has overseen it for more than a century, and director Nick Durrant, the fifth generation of the family to be involved, said his father, George, 89, was able to give him a first-hand account of how the auctions have changed over the years. The event takes place on March 28, at The Bell in St Olaves, and gives graziers the chance to secure grassland to use through the summer months.

“Between the wars all the dairy farms around here were small dairy farms of about 20 cows,” said Nick. “The cows were housed on the uplands adjoining the marshes and they would come down here to graze during the day.

“When the number of cows at the farms grew bigger, it was no longer practical to take them down to the marshes, because it was too far to walk. That was before livestock transport, so logistically there was only so far you could walk dairy cows between milkings.”

Once livestock lorries became the norm, people came in from further afield, he said, and the competition can become intense.

“There is obvious rivalry, because there are certain farmers who always have the same marsh and they will pay whatever they need to keep it – because they have their own traditions and their own way of doing business,” he said.

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Fellow director Nick Rudge will be the auctioneer on the day.

“It will be standing room only,” he said. “We have been letting marshes here since the early 1900s in this location, but we don’t know exactly when we started. We let marshes from the Swan pub in Norton Subcourse in the 1880s. The pub is no longer there, but that is the earliest we can trace letting marshes back.”

With far fewer dairy cows these days, the marshland is principally let for beef cattle grazing, as well as for horses, and the ownership of the land has changed, with fewer landowners, he said. “It is tradition. It sets the tone and sets the market rent for that year for a huge number of private lettings arranged both by ourselves and by private landowners.”