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Cornbury estate will go green
A COUNTRY estate best known for its annual music festival plans to make a big noise as an eco-community.
The Cornbury estate, near Charlbury, has unveiled projects to tap into natural resources to produce hydro-electricity and pure drinking water.
It is also planning a 15-metre high wind turbine in a clearing in the ancient Wychwood Forest, and to utilise off-cuts, twigs, and other dead wood for biomass fuel.
Owner, Lord Rotherwick, has been taking a detailed look at the natural potential of his 2,000-acre estate, and said it was really a case of returning to the past when the estate and its community had had to be self-sufficient.
He said: "My understanding is that we will be the first in Oxfordshire to become completely self-sufficient in water, providing hydro-electric energy, as well as water purer than most bottled mineral supplies.
"We have to be more aware today of things like climate change and energy use. These projects will give us sustainability in energy and lower our carbon footprint. But it is really the restoration of our historic past."
The Cornbury estate has a long history dating back to the Domesday Book, and the past Lord Rotherwick refers to are the days before oil, gas, grid electricity, piped water, and road transport.
At present, the estate brings in valuable income from deer, pheasants, fish, the annual Cornbury Music Festival, and other leisure events. It is also home to 17 businesses, some private houses, and, of course, the historic manor house.
Lord Rotherwick adds: "Our energy fuel at the moment is oil, costing us £150,000 a year. That is a huge carbon footprint. In the past, 80 per cent of the heat for the properties and kitchens on the estate came from coppice wood."
Making the changeover to self-reliance is involving expensive restoration, as well as new work. The main project is centred on the redundant Victorian pumping station by the last of a series of lakes at Southill.
The old water wheel has been taken out - it will be restored and used as an educational resource for local school parties - to be replaced by a hydro-electric turbine.
A large filter bed is being made to purify abundant spring water. Local craftsmen Robert Harris and Paul Billows, based at Witney, have been brought in to put up a five-feet-high drystone wall, to keep out animals, like deer and foxes.
Meanwhile, another local expert, John McCann, from Charlbury, who used to work for the National Rivers Authority, has provided the expertise for the project.
"We expect ultimately to become self-sufficient in power, and even a surplus supplier of energy," said Lord Rotherwick. "It is also possible we may pump surplus drinking water to some homes in Finstock."
He is aware of the more contentious scheme for a wind turbine in the middle of the ancient Wychwood Forest. The planning application went to West Oxfordshire District Council on April 14.
"You would probably see the turbine blades from the top of Charlbury Hill, but not in Charlbury itself. It is tucked away in a clearing in the forest, well away from any properties," he said.
The third element, converting dead wood into biomass chippings, though not lucrative, will actually make use of natural waste, which was previously just burned in bonfires.
Lord Rotherwick added: "The eco-community we are trying to create is based on sustainability, rather like a project in the Third World.
"We have looked at our energy requirements, and what we can supply ourselves."