East Yorkshire gravel mining paves the way for wildlife tourism by kayak

Maisie Lee (left), aged 10, trying out the kayaks on Kingfisher Lakes with glamping guest Stella near Brandesburton.
Maisie Lee (left), aged 10, trying out the kayaks on Kingfisher Lakes with glamping guest Stella near Brandesburton.
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Making the most of natural resources and getting closer to customers have been at the heart of farming for centuries but finding new ways of ensuring the next generation can afford to be part of the day-to-day business isn’t something that necessarily comes easy, especially as it forces change and can often take time and a great deal of effort and expense. It can also fail if the market isn’t as anticipated.

Fish and chips took the Lee family of Corner Farm, Burshill, near Brandesburton, into new unchartered territories for brothers Dave and Rob thirty years ago and has seen their emphasis on potato growing and supplying shops from Hull to Bridlington become a golden success and now glamping and kayaks are bringing about the latest development at their Kingfisher Lakes holiday site that opened last year.

Jo Lee gets a yurt ready next to Kingfisher Lakes near Brandesburton.

Jo Lee gets a yurt ready next to Kingfisher Lakes near Brandesburton.

Dave’s 10-year old daughter, Maisie, already has a role and Rob’s wife, Jo, tells of how the family’s arable farm has been even more of an interest for visitors than they perhaps initially realised.

It’s pretty much accepted that young and old coming to the countryside will fall in love with times such as lambing and calving, but the growing of potatoes, wheat and barley along with a thirst for wildlife is a relatively unmined tourism draw in Holderness.

This area of East Yorkshire could be described as a mini-Lakeland without the hills. Kingfisher Lakes are just two of many that now offer new tourism markets as a result of gravel mining that took place along a gravel seam that runs from North Frodingham to Routh. Some may remember the gravel company names of Hoveringham and Maddox & Marlow from years ago. It’s a lakeland area that is fast becoming a haven for wildlife, farmers, water pursuits enthusiasts, anglers and holiday makers.

“We had a fabulous response to our opening last year,” says Jo. “We had 90 per cent occupancy over the main season and we’ve had a number of rebookings, we’ve increased the number of glamping tents and we’ve found we’re a great niche venue for groups such as larger family get-togethers and hen groups.

The  Lee family next to Kingfisher Lakes.

The Lee family next to Kingfisher Lakes.

“This year we have six of which four are safari tents and two are yurts. We’ve also a brand new log cabin and a massage cabin, as I’ve recently trained as a massage therapist.

“We knew the kayaks would be popular and we felt the lakes with their accompanying wildlife would be the main attraction but we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the reaction to what Dave, Rob and their dad Phil go about on the farm.

“People want to know how things are grown. We’ve shown families really interested in the potatoes and what we do how they are graded and have given them the opportunity to see how they were harvested. We’ve also had bags of potatoes printed with the words ‘lovingly grown on the farm’.

“Visitors love that they are staying on a farm or at least right next to it. When I realised one day last summer that the combine was about to harvest in the field next to our visitors I was concerned but I needn’t have been as everyone was excited and you could hear them say, ‘wow this is amazing’. For some it was the first time they’d ever seen one in action and for all it was an event in itself. We’ve now realised just how much we take for granted and that Kingfisher Lakes offers a great deal more than we had imagined.

Rob (left) and Dave Lee of Corner Farm near Brandesburton with some of their potatoes.

Rob (left) and Dave Lee of Corner Farm near Brandesburton with some of their potatoes.

“We’re really keen to go further down the wildlife tourism route and we’re working closely with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and we’re in the middle of Yorkshire Nature Triangle. You can see kingfishers, herons, deer and many other species of fish, birds and animals.”

The Lee family isn’t the only one to have embraced the idea of a holiday site, fishing lake or water sports in the area.

They’ve joined a set that is mining tourism as much as these former gravel pits were once worked themselves, but their vertically integrated move in the potato world is a different matter and came about through Dave and Rob’s father, Phil, realising another niche.

“It was dad’s idea,” says Dave. “Rob and I have grown the business of supplying fish and chip shops but he came up with it in the late 80s. He was mindful of finding work for us and we now grow around 70-80 acres of potatoes each year with our two main varieties of Sagitta that produces a perfect golden chip and the well-known chip shop potato variety Maris Piper.”

Everyone from the family gets involved at Corner Farm and Kingfisher Lakes. When I was there Dave and Rob’s mum were mowing the grass around the farmhouse; Dave’s wife, Liz, was just back from walking the dogs with daughter, Maisie, who is preparing for her second season as Director of Fun and Games. The fourth Lee generation, since her great grandfather, William, first farmed here, is clearly making her presence felt.

“It’s been a learning curve for us all,” says Dave. “It’s going well and if we can educate those who come here about farming and the countryside at the same time that’s brilliant.”