The term rural estates (Dutch: landgoederen) refers to a mixed model of land management in which different forms of land use are managed as a unity. This may include a historic country house, outbuildings, gardens, parklands, farmlands, woodlands, nature and so on. An estate may be several thousands hectares in size (so-called landed or country estates) or they may be much smaller (e.g. 20, 50 or 200 hectares) as is often the case in Flanders and the Netherlands. They can be privately owned, by governments or non-governmental organizations (NGO's).
Rural estates usually consists of multiple 'layers of time' — it may include features going back to a remote past and others of a more recent origin. They are the places where the cultural history of Europe is imprinted onto the land (but they are often also important refuges for rare animal and plant species). Their continues adaptation to changing fashions and needs, up until the present, is an important part of their story. To ensure the long-term viability of an estate, and to meet with changing circumstances, new interventions are often needed, which may in certain cases trigger new sources of revenue.
Throughout history, rural estates have always given an expression to the doctrine of dulce utili – the intimate pairing of the useful and the pleasurable. They were and continue to be economic and productive entities, while simultaneously also offering room for leisure activities (e.g. hunting) and the sensory pleasures of magnificent estate landscapes. Based on the revenues generated from the wider territories with buildings, farmlands and woodlands many estates were economically self-sufficient. Even though much has changed over the course of the last centuries, the estate model remains as much relevant today for the long-term sustainable management of rural properties with unique cultural and natural assets.
However, little research has gone into rural estates as a mixed model of land management. Due to compartmentalization of knowledge within academia — usually focused on a specific form of land use (e.g. agriculture, nature, parks, built heritage) — little attention is given to ‘rural estates’ as a whole, and policy measures which might support this. Our research aims to fill this gap, through the sampling of different case studies and approaches from across Europe.
The Clausholm estate in Denmark (photograph: Steven Heyde)