For hundreds of years the Rochester Bridge Trust has provided a crossing over the River Medway at Rochester at no cost to the public. The Trust is entirely self-funded and much of its income is generated from the land it owns, much of which is used for farming – some of which dates back to the foundation of the Trust in 1399.
This farmland was donated to the Trust in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, as a way to generate income to pay for the provision and maintenance of Rochester Bridge. Among those donations of land were Langdon Manor Farm in Faversham (which produces fantastic strawberries that can be found in supermarkets across the county during the growing season); and grazing marsh at Eastwick and Rose Court on the Hoo peninsula.
Tim Cathcart, Chief Estates Officer at the Rochester Bridge Trust, explained: “The Trust has owned land for more than 600 years, providing income for its works while also growing crops, fruits and offering grazing land for animals. It’s easy to miss this side of our work because the lands are located elsewhere in Kent and Medway – and beyond – whereas the bridge is a visible part of people’s everyday lives and gives the charity its name.
“This World Food and Agriculture Day, we’re illuminating Rochester Bridge in recognition of the importance of feeding the world and of the agricultural activities carried out on the Trust’s estate.”
The total property investment estate of the Rochester Bridge Trust is 6,800 acres, the majority of which is used for agriculture.
Approximately 4,750 acres or 70% of the total estate is used for arable farming, ie food production for humans and animals (cattle feed), with 10% used for livestock grazing, and another 10% for fruit growing. Vineyards have recently been planted on a small proportion of the remaining land.
Breaking down the arable crops, these are mainly wheat and barley for milling (bread making, biscuits, cakes); some oats; beans; and oilseed rape for cooking oil. The fruit is a mix including strawberries, blueberries, apples and blackcurrants, while the grazing land is mainly home to cows or sheep.
In total, the property investment estate represents around 60% of the Trust’s assets and provides roughly the same proportion of annual income. That income is then used to maintain the bridges and deliver other charitable works, such as the education programme which aims to inspire the next generation to take an interest in agriculture and/or engineering. This includes the Spence Agricultural Scholarship, and the provision of grants for activities including Kent County Agricultural Society’s Living Land event, which is aimed at primary-aged children.