The Lees Court Estate is approximately 6,900 acres with a core of 2,663 acres around the villages of Sheldwich and Badlesmere with the balance of approximately 4,200 acres lying on the bed of the Swale Estuary, Oare Creek and Faversham Creek to the north of the core Estate.
The ownership of estuarine and creek bed is a rarity in the British Isles, the vast majority of the remaining land below the mean high water mark being owned by the Crown Estate. The Swale Estuary, Oare Creek and Faversham Creek have been part of the Sondes Estate for approximately 370 years. King Stephen and his wife, Matilda, founded the monastery of St Saviour, Faversham, and granted it to the Manor and Hundred of Faversham in about 1147. The Manor and Hundred of Faversham was then conveyed by King Charles I by Royal Grant to Sir Dudley Diggs in 1629/30. Following the death of Sir Dudley Diggs, his heirs sold and conveyed the Manor of Faversham to Sir George Sondes of Lees Court in 1641.
There are several rights which are held under licence and by statute by third parties over the Estuary and the Creeks, and represent a broad spectrum of activities, including moorings, wildfowling, and fishing.
The Estate is actively involved in conserving and managing the biodiversity of the area, with the help of the principal licence holder, Hollowshore Fisheries. Equally important in the Estate’s objectives for the area is to maintain the socio-economic vitality of the community. This is achieved through various means, such that as ensuring the availability of moorings for local boat users, and representing the interests of local fishermen in promoting the sustainable and traditional industry, in light of growing pressure from Government and private developers.
The Swale is registered as a RAMSAR site and is surrounded by SSSI. It is a unique and clean environment which has featured on BBC’s Countryfile
When these current schemes expire the Estate plans to enter into Higher Level Stewardship, which aims to deliver significant environmental benefits in high priority situations and areas. It involves more complex environmental management.
As part of the Lees Court Estate Project, Lees Court commissioned an independent study to demonstrate that Government grant assistance, through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, rarely covers the profits foregone or investment by farmers in capital programmes to enhance the countryside. The issue was raised in The House of Lords and its findings accepted.