Thornton is a traditional Scottish family estate located in the fertile Howe of the Mearns at the upper end of the spectacular Vale of Strathmore, near the village of Laurencekirk, midway between Aberdeen and Dundee. The Howe is entirely shaped by man. It was originally largely bog, which was drained and brought into agricultural production at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. Many of the fields on Thornton still retain the names given to them at that time such as the Oxgangs, Dronachmyre, Binchetts and Pooleymuir.
The estate is centred on Thornton Castle, which dates back to the 14th Century. As a traditional mixed estate, with forestry, game, environmental and agricultural enterprises, a long term holistic view of property management is required to benefit future generations.
Agriculture and Woodland:
Cropping is based on a rotation of wheat, barley and oats. Minimal cultivation techniques and modern high, output machinery allow operations to take place at optimum times. All fields are mapped for lime, phosphate and potash using the latest Global Positioning Satellite technology. Crop protection decisions are based on regular crop monitoring. Modern, low dose spraying equipment minimises the risk of drift and helps maintain the right habitat to encourage biological control by natural predators.
Conservation and environmental care has always been an integral part of the farming at Thornton. As a traditional estate there is a higher than average number of woodlands and hedges. One feature of the property is the beech hedging, much of which is more than 150 years old and there is an ongoing programme to plant and improve hedgerows. Monocultures of Scots Pine and spruce are gradually making way to more naturalistic woodlands based on natural regeneration.
The estate has an ongoing management programme to provide food and habitat for insects, birds and small mammals. Thornton is particularly proud of its red squirrel population and work is constantly being carried out to try to further increase their numbers. Grass margins have been established around many fields which provide a diverse habitat for beneficial predators and other wildlife as well as preventing spray drift reaching the hedge bottoms.
In July 2020, working alongside the Scottish Farming and Wildlife Advisers' (SCOTFWAG), a series of tree sparrow and barn owl boxes were installed around the estate. The hope is that this will provide extra shelter for these birds, and encourage further growth in their numbers. Thornton is also now trialing wild flower mix as part of SCOTFWAG ongoing research into conservation.
Over the years Thornton has been involved with the RSPB’s Volunteer and Farmer Alliance. Over 53 species of birds including several of “conservation concern” at a UK level have been observed during surveys. The Estate is also a member of LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), which puts sustainability at the forefront of food production.
A series of tree sparrow boxes around the Estate