The winner of this year’s inaugural Scottish Agriculture Awards Diversification Award – as well as overall Champion of Champions – tells us how the farming business has developed into an integral part of the Arran community.
A marine step-ashore facility is the latest diversification in the making for Arran farming family, the Bones. Since returning to join his father on the mixed farm on the east coast of the island 40 years ago, Kenneth Bone has not, in fact, stopped diversifying, with a hydro scheme and the village pub now all part of the mix.
“We had 50 dairy cows and 600 blackface sheep when I first came back from Auchincruive. It was in the milking shed when I had loads of time to think; I kept wondering what we could do to augment income. We had all these natural resources, and how could we maximise them.”
Glenkiln has been in the family since 1911, later bought by Kenneth’s grandfather. The first move when Kenneth returned from college was to almost triple the milking cows. When the milk price fell below the cost of production, Kenneth stepped in to cover the dairy man they’d had to let go. Working seven days and more, he couldn’t ever get away from the farm and with the odds against them, in 2004, they stopped dairying. This gave Kenneth a chance to stand back and look at the potential in other areas of the farm.
His wife, Eleanor, who was working at the local school at the time, was a keen horsewoman and their first enterprise away from farming was a DIY livery. Then soon after major projects started on renovating former redundant farm worker cottages into long term lets and converting old farm buildings into dwellings followed with six newbuild houses, and planning permission for building two holiday lets.
“The income from the properties allowed us to diversify further and invest to make the most of our surroundings. We’d tried previously to put in six wind turbines, but although we had plenty of local support, the year we put our application in, in 1999, it was designated a Special Protection Area for hen harriers under a European Directive and we would have had to prove that a hen harrier would not fly into the turbines, which was obviously impossible to do. If we’d had those turbines though, Arran would have been net zero way before anyone was even talking about net zero. In 2010, we planned and jointly invested in a hydro scheme, which since 2016 powers 400 homes in the village.”
It took two years to build, as, since it was a Special Protection Area, work could only take place outside the nesting season, the winter months.
“It was a stressful time as all the money was going out before a penny came back, it had to be built within a certain period to be eligible for the feed in tariff, and the team was working from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, in the worst months of the year.”
Kenneth and Eleanor’s sons, Cameron and Euan were involved in the project, and middle son Euan was particularly interested studying for his Masters degree and now going through his Chartership as a civil engineer and working for a global firm. The Bones are currently working on the pre-development of a four mega-watt solar farm in conjunction with Arran Community Renewables.
Farming still remains at the heart of the business, the dairy cows put to a beef bull when Glenkiln stopped milking. The farm now has a herd of 120 Aberdeen Angus spring calving cows and youngstock and a flock of 600 blackface and cheviot ewes. Growing spring barley makes the farm self-sufficient with feed and straw, and 110 acres of silage and haylage are grown for the livestock.
The farm’s beef and lamb, alongside wild venison, is used in the pub that Kenneth bought with two friends when it went into administration in 2017. The Drift Inn in the local village of Lamlash has since doubled its capacity, employs 28 staff, and although challenged by events that were out of their hands, has thrived and was recently voted as one of the best six beer gardens in the UK:
“We didn’t want to lose the village pub, and it is in such a great location. Our original plan was to lease it out, but the tenant had to return to Canada with his family, so we found ourselves unwittingly in charge. Then Covid threw us a curve ball, but everything has come together now. We built a covered patio area to allow us to do more covers outside when tables had to be a certain distance apart and people would sit in their warm jackets and have a meal. Following this we built a new seating area on the shoreline above where the tide comes in separated by a glass balustrade so you can enjoy a beer with the waves lapping below you. With everyone staying at home for the following summers, we had a real boom. We’ve a brilliant management team and employ lots of locals as well as high school children and students back over the summer. We actually had to rent out cottages for some staff coming from the mainland, who have decided to stay which is brilliant as it’s great to bring more young people to the island.”
Last year Glenkiln completed the building of a new indoor riding arena facility on Arran to augment the horse livery business which Eleanor now runs with Hannah, their daughter who returned to Arran following gaining a First Class honours in business and finance from Heriot Watt.
The Bones travelled the country researching arenas from Eaglesham to Gleneagles, and have created a hi spec arena with every grain of sand coated in wax to keep the dust down, that hosts not only riding lessons and events but is also a fantastic indoor training space for the local rugby club. The Arran Farmers Society also hosts its Annual Farmers’ Show in the surrounding fields, and there are plans for the arena to host concerts.
The diversified approach runs through the family. Hannah also does the accounts for a local dairy, and Cameron, who attended Oatridge and UWS in Ayr helps run the three farms and started the agricultural contracting business which he operates from the farm along with hedge cutting for the island.
The Bones are also supporting the Arran Development Trust, for which Kenneth is a board member, with land to build 18 new long-term rental houses on the edge of the farm to help combat the affordable home crisis.
“We are in the process of looking at succession now. I always wanted the children to go off Arran and have a good education. They’ve come back now with new skills that are all an asset to the businesses, and I’d like to think with all of the diversifications there’s something for each of them here. We’ve employed a succession expert and I look forward to seeing how it can be fulfilled.”
Fully integrated in the Arran community and economy, providing homes, energy and employment, the next ambitious project Kenneth is involved in along with a local group is a 50-berth marina :
“Feasibility studies show that every private boat that comes to the island spends on average £250 on fuel, hospitality, food and gifts. Multiply that by 180 days and we’re looking at £2.25 million into the local economy. As the saying goes, a rising tide floats all boats! There’s now new funding available for marine tourism from the Ayrshire Growth Deal and commitment from private investors, so it’s coming closer to reality.
“Arran is often referred to as Scotland in miniature” adds Kenneth. “We like to think that Arran is now “A Future Scotland in miniature” by leading on what others can be doing across the whole country.”