Vale of Glamorgan farmer takes on Fonmon estate management

Vale of Glamorgan farmer Rhys Jenkins has taken on the role of managing the 350-acre estate at Fonmon Castle near Cardiff airport, having been offered the opportunity after his family learned they are to lose the land Rhys grew up farming.

Rhys’ family has farmed 250 acres of land in the Vale of Glamorgan for generations but recently learned that the owner of the land they farm is planning to sell it for development. This will leave the family with only their personally-owned smallholding, which is not big enough to support their business.

The new owner of Fonmon Castle, Nigel Ford, learned of their plight and recognised that young farmer Rhys was perfectly qualified to manage his 350-acre estate. He contacted Rhys and asked him if he would like to take it on.

Rhys now manages the estate while also running his independent business, Wild Wales Seeds, from his own farm. The Fonmon estate includes salt marshes, and Rhys will be raising native breeds of cattle and sheep on this land to provide meat for the Fonmon Castle wedding venue.

Meanwhile, Wild Wales Seeds is targeting large buyers of seeds such as councils and the National Trust, and will also sell seeds to the public. Part of its mission is to help educate children about the natural world, so families and schools will be able to buy seed kits that enable them to grow their own vegetables and learn about each plant in the process. The company also provides special species of grass seeds for specific purposes, such as creating cricket pitches, football pitches, and garden lawns.

Rhys is delighted to have diversified his offering and to have taken responsibility for managing the Fonmon estate.

“My family has had a year or two of stress and uncertainty, so this opportunity has come along at exactly the right time,” says Rhys. “Nigel made contact via a neighbour, we had a meeting at the castle and things went from there. I seized the opportunity with both hands.”

The initiative will include a re-wilding of many areas of the beautiful estate, especially its picturesque river valley, encouraging native wildlife to re-establish itself there and providing much for visitors to spot on their country walks. Besides the raising of livestock in the lowland areas, the business will also include a summer maize maze for visitors to the Fonmon estate, and a rewilding project in the estate’s river valley.

“It’s really exciting to be doing something slightly different, and to create a business that is pretty unique in Wales,” says Rhys. “We’re keen to get involved with the local community and to help push how unique Wales is.”

The newly opened Fonmon estate also offers a wedding village run by Zoe Binning and Step Through Time, a set of historical attractions including a dinosaur park and living history medieval village run by actor and living history expert Ross O’Hennessy.

The castle and estate were bought by businessman Nigel Ford last year, and he has made it a priority to open it to the local community while creating opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurs. Nigel’s own businesses include a successful wholesale seed business, All Things Rural, as well as a popular visitor attraction, All Things Wild, in the Midlands.