On Tuesday 3 November, Alexander Dickinson and Charlotte Patterson-Ryan, joined Andy Green and Venetia Hoare from C. Hoare & Co, as well as hosts Johnny Dudgeon, Emily Norton and Lucian Cook from Savills for a panel discussion on the future of Rural Estates.

Charlotte discussed: "Building resilience: making the most of your advisors and innovative work practices to navigate COVID-19". Looking at how rural estates can become more robust, and continue with successful strategies to diversify portfolios if necessary.

The overriding theme that was considered was the relationship between being resilient; being capable of surviving in a crisis, and, being innovative - having the ability to problem solve and adapt to that crisis. But in practice, how does one go about the successful implementation of that principle and how can your advisors help you in formulating and executing such an approach? Drawing on her own experience, Charlotte considered those areas of her practice which were seeing a surge in activity despite the looming presence and uncertainties generated by the global pandemic. Solar-related work, innovative development projects such as retirement lifestyle villages and viticulture were all areas noted as having come to the fore as clients sought out innovative land uses, bringing in market specialists where necessary, to drive projects forward.

In all cases the resilient businesses, farms and estates, bringing these projects on, were the naturally innovative ones. Clients who were already open to creative problem solving, had their teams of advisors on board, and so, were ideally placed to move on the opportunities that were presenting themselves, seamlessly adapting and evolving their thought processes in order to thrive and survive.

As to the advisors themselves, and their role in the process, the potential for change here remains limitless as advisors continue to be forced to adapt their own working practices; not only to come up with the strategic framework for any given project but also to draw together different elements of their professional networks and their own business' innovative acumen to offer pragmatic solutions in an imaginative and creative fashion.

All evolution is driven by pressure of some description. In this moment, where the current socio-economic pressures are at unprecedented levels, advisors are themselves evolving and as such, are working differently and in ways which can offer real advantages to you, as the client. Truly successful projects in the COVID landscape can capitalise on the early bringing together of advisors, the rapid forging of professional relationships and the creation of teams focused on bringing matters to completion for the benefit of all parties.

By getting your advisors involved at an early stage you give them more scope to think creatively before they are confined by the terms of a crystallised deal. By being clear about your vision and aims and promoting transparency throughout a project you allow your advisors not only to input into your vision in a meaningful fashion but also, and importantly, share your passion for it.

With the disruption in the world Alexander used the platform to discuss legal developments for landowners over the past six months. Reflecting on recent strategic discussions in which he had participated he spoke to the common themes arising from these including the direction of tax policy and mitigation strategies, structural reorganisation of businesses and reviewing wills and succession planning to reduce the risk of proprietary estoppel claims.

Alexander considered that the Agriculture Bill to be the most important bit of legislation to affect UK Agriculture for decades, one that is likely to lead - after some pain - to a more robust and innovative industry.

So, innovation or insolvency – is that the choice facing the industry? Estates are seeking to sort the innovative, enthusiastic and forward thinking farmers (both tenants and contractors) from those who are likely to exit the sector, either through choice or necessity. Backing those who will thrive in the future will be crucial and many rural estates want to be pro-active in encouraging change.

Noting a desire a trend to move away from the cities Alexander observed that has led to pressure on access, and may in time lead to demand for more rural housing and more property hubs (perhaps in farm steadings, whether or not currently redundant) providing offices, logistics and services.

Alexander also explained that his WBD colleagues are seeing an increased focus on renewable and environmental projects, including innovative examples such as using flooded quarries in which to float solar farms and storing green energy batteries in dry quarries. 

Alexander concluded his talk by urging delegates to remember the importance of communication. The early days of the lockdown demonstrated the need to find ways to keep connected, with the coming months being no different. He said that making sure you are in contact with your clients, with your family, with your advisors, with your customers and with your suppliers is crucial.

To watch the webinar and hear from all of the panellists, please click here.