Ever wondered who or what has the biggest portfolio of land in the UK? Britain’s biggest landowners include well-heeled aristocrats, government departments, renowned institutions, foreign investors and more. Counting down from the 50th to the largest landowner of them all, we spill the beans on the people and organisations that really own the country.
50. Honourable Artillery Company: 14,209 acres
Military charity the Honourable Artillery Company holds the title to 14,209 acres in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, which is used by the Armed Forces and other organisations for advanced adventurous training.
Trinity College, Cambridge is the UK’s richest university college with land holdings of 13,335 acres that have been valued at £730 million, but Oxford’s Merton College has more acreage – at 14,707 acres, the college owns more land than any other educational institution.
48. Al Maktoum family: 15,533 acres
The ruling family of Dubai owns a company called Arago Limited, which controls the Bollihope Estate in the North Pennines, a major grouse shooting ground. Sprawling over at least 550,000 acres, England’s privately-owned grouse moors cover an area the size of Greater London.
47. Taylor Wimpey: 14,684 acres
Taylor Wimpey is one of the Britain’s leading housebuilders and a major landowner to boot. The company’s shareholders are the ultimate owners of 14,684 acres of developable land throughout the UK.
46. John Whittaker & the Olayan Group: 15,041 acres
The company behind Manchester’s Trafford Centre and MediaCityUK, property investment giant the Peel Group has land holdings totalling 15,041 acres. Real estate mogul John Whittaker owns 75% of the firm, while the remaining 25% is held by the Olayan Group, a Saudi conglomerate.
45. Pennon Group: 15,816 acres
South West Water has a land bank of 15,816 acres, mainly in Cornwall and Devon. South West Water is part of the Pennon Group, which is owned by its shareholders, and includes waste management firm Viridor.
44. Kemble Water Holdings: 15,987 acres
The UK’s largest water services company, Thames Water is sitting on 15,987 acres of relatively pricey land, mainly in London and the Home Counties. The company is owned by an international consortium called Kemble Water Holdings comprised of funds from the UK, Canada, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and China.
43. Richard Kelvin-Hughes: 16,000 acres
Leading racehorse owner and country sports enthusiast Richard Kelvin-Hughes has one of England’s premier grouse moors in his possession, the Knarsdale Estate in Northumberland, which he snapped up in 2007, fulfilling a life-long ambition.
42. Michael Cannon: 16,001 acres
Michael Cannon, a former poultry farmer-turned-pubs entrepreneur, owns the Wemmergill Estate in Country Durham. Stone acquired the grouse moor in 2006 from the late Queen Mother’s Bowes-Lyon family for £20 million.
41. Valero Energy: 17,216 acres
Shareholders of America’s Valero Energy have ownership rights over the UK’s number one fuel pipeline. The Mainlines Pipelines network runs from Pembroke in South Wales to the Midlands and northwest of England.
40. Osprey Consortium: 17,607 acres
Anglian Water has a portfolio of 17,607 acres of land in the East of England. The company is owned by a consortium that includes the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Australia’s Colonial First State Global Asset Management and the UK-based 3i Group.
39. Rathbone Brothers 17,854 acres
Investment company Rathbone Brothers boasts 17,854 acres of land in the UK. Now a publicly-listed enterprise, the firm, which is based in London’s Finsbury Circus (pictured), was founded way back in 1742 by merchant William Rathbone II and remained in the Rathbone family for generations.
Emily of camarco.co.uk writes: “Rathbones does not own any land; it acts a trustee for families, on whose behalf it holds the legal title to land. This is an important distinction to make.”
38. Sir Lyonel Humphrey John Tollemache, 7th Baronet: 17,908 acres
British aristocrats who have managed to hold on to their estates or at least part of their ancestral lands feature heavily in the top 50. Sir Lyonel Humphrey John Tollemache, the 7th Baronet, owns the 17,908-acre Buckminster Estate through a company called Ham Nominees.
37. Michael Stone: 18,000 acres
Former sugar trader Michael Stone has ownership rights of the Weardale and Egglestone moors in County Durham, which total around 18,000 acres. The moors are used for grouse shooting from August to December.
36. John Clark: 18,119 acres
Featherstone Castle and its surrounding estate in the uplands of Northumberland belong to John Clark who, together with his father Colonel John Clark, bought the stately home and grouse moor in 1961. In total, the estate is 18,119 acres in size.
35. Homes England: 19,349 acres
Between them, the various agencies of the UK government own tens of thousands of acres of land throughout Britain. Homes England has one of the largest land holdings, adding up to around 19,349 acres.
34. John Savile, 8th Earl of Mexborough: 20,000 acres
Back to the upper classes and John Savile, the 8th Earl of Mexborough, is the proud custodian of 20,000 acres of land in Yorkshire and other parts of the UK through his ownership of Mexborough Estates. In fact, according to Country Life magazine, a third of Britain still belongs to the aristocracy.
33. Queen Elizabeth II: 20,000 acres
Her Majesty may have Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral at her disposal, but these assets are actually owned by the nation. The Queen’s private land holdings amount to a surprisingly modest 20,000 acres, mainly in and around Sandringham in Norfolk.
32. Corland Minerals: 20,371 acres
Based in Scarborough, Corland Minerals holds the title to 20,371 acres throughout the UK. For the past few years, the mining company been busily registering interest in common lands, which has attracted some controversy.
31. Henry Somerset, 12th Duke of Beaufort: 20,534 acres
Another member of the aristocracy with an enviable portfolio of land, Henry Somerset, the 12th Duke of Beaufort, is the owner of Swangrove Estates, which includes swathes of Gloucestershire and parts of South Wales.
30. HeidelbergCement: 20,534 acres
Hanson Quarry Products Europe has 20,534 acres in the UK. The construction manufacturing company is a subsidiary of German multinational HeidelbergCement, one of the world’s largest suppliers of building materials.
29. Edward Guinness, 4th Earl of Iveagh: 20,664 acres
A scion of the Anglo-Irish Guinness brewing dynasty, Edward Guinness, the 4th Earl of Iveagh, owns the 20,664-acre Elvedon Estate in Suffolk. The estate includes a working farm growing cereals and root vegetables.
28. Harworth Group: 21,000 acres
Formerly the property division of mining firm UK Coal, the Harworth Group is a land regeneration company with 21,000 acres of developable brownfield sites chiefly in the North of England and the Midlands.
27. Stefan Persson: 21,373 acres
H&M head honcho Stefan Persson owns thousands of acres of land in Hampshire and Wiltshire via a company called Ramsbury S.a.R.L. The portfolio includes an entire Hampshire village and the bulk of the 8,800-acre Savernake Estate, which Persson bought from the Crown Estate in 2013.
26. Andrew Russell, 15th Duke of Bedford: 21,474 acres
The Woburn Estate in Bedfordshire extends over 21,474 acres and includes the famous Woburn Abbey and Safari Park. Andrew Russell, the 15th Duke of Bedford, is the current custodian of the estate, which has been the family seat since 1547.
25. Count Luca Rinaldo Contardo Padulli di Vighignolo: 25,000 acres
Mysterious Italian aristocrat Count Luca Rinaldo Contardo Padulli di Vighignolo owns Albanwise, a Norfolk-based property company with land holdings totalling 25,000 acres in Norfolk, London, the Home Counties and North Yorkshire.
24. Zambrano family: 25,340 acres
Mexican multinational Cemex, the world’s second largest buildings materials company, has over 500 locations in the UK and 25,340 acres of land. Cemex is owned by relatives of the late billionaire Lorenzo Zambrano (pictured), who made the company the success it is today.
23. Roger Tempest: 25,516 acres
The 25,516-acre Broughton Hall Estate in North Yorkshire has been in the Tempest family for aeons. The ancient family dates back to the Norman conquest and has owned the estate for 32 generations. Roger Tempest is the current custodian.
22. Robert Warren Miller: 27,258 acres
Pictured here with his daughter Pia Getty, American-born tycoon Robert Warren Miller, founder of the Duty Free Shops chain, is up next. The airport retail billionaire owns Gunnerside Estates in North Yorkshire and Durham, which encompasses some 27,258 acres. Much of the land was acquired in 1995 from Lord Peel.
21. Sir James Dyson: 33,000 acres
Sir James Dyson made his fortune from vacuum cleaners and is spending a hefty proportion of it hoovering up vast tracts of farmland. The billionaire British investor owns sustainable agriculture firm Beeswax Dyson Farming and is reported to have land holdings of 33,000 acres in England.
20. Hugh Lowther, 8th Earl of Lonsdale: 35,269 acres
Hugh Lowther, the 8th Earl of Lonsdale, owns the Lonsdale Estate in Cumbria, as well as a company called L.E.T Nominees that has extensive land holdings. All in all, the earl is the custodian of an impressive 35,269 acres of the English countryside.
19. LafargeHolcim: 48,557 acres
Swiss-based LafargeHolcim, the world’s largest manufacturer of building materials, has two cement plants in Cauldon, Staffordshire and Cookstown, Northern Ireland, and a portfolio of land totalling 48,557 acres in the UK.
18. Severn Trent: 51,668 acres
The shareholders of water company Severn Trent are the ultimate owners of 51,668 acres of land. The holdings are located for the most part in the Midlands, including parts of Birmingham and Rugby.
17. MRH Minerals: 67,935 acres
Mining firm MRH Minerals owns 67,935 acres in Cumbria. The company was established in 1941 by the descendants of the 9th Earl of Carlisle. Conservative peer Oliver Eden, the 8th Baron Henley, is a prominent shareholder.
16. Saltaire Water: 68,927 acres
A group of investors that include HSBC and Citibank form Saltaire Water, the consortium that owns Yorkshire Water. The water services company is a major landowner in the north of England with a total of 68,927 acres.
15. Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings: 69,294 acres
In recent years, this Hong Kong-based infrastructure investment company has amassed a formidable portfolio of land in the UK. The firm owns the Northumbrian Water Group as well as UK Power Networks, which together have land holdings of 69,294 acres.
14. Dwr Cymru Cyfyngedig (Welsh Water): 77,975 acres
Dwr Cymru Cyfyngedig (Welsh Water) is the not-for-profit company that owns and operates Welsh Water. Like the other major water companies in the UK, Welsh Water has a massive portfolio of land; in this case, a total of 77,975 acres.
13. Church of England: 105,000 acres
Experts estimate the Church of England has around 105,000 acres of land in the UK, which includes farmland and forestry estate, as well as thousands of prestige properties. The total value of the portfolio is said to exceed £2 billion.
12. Duchy of Cornwall: 135,000 acres
The Duchy of Cornwall has 135,000 acres of land spanning 23 English counties. The Duchy belongs to the Prince of Wales, but His Royal Highness doesn’t own it in the classic sense as its capital assets are kept in trust for the nation.
11. Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster: 140,000 acres
Billionaire Hugh Grosvenor inherited the Grosvenor Estate in 2016 upon the death of his father, Gerald Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster. The estate represents the most valuable land holding in the UK and includes 300 acres of prime property in London’s Mayfair and Belgravia.
10. United Utilities: 140,124 acres
This publicly-listed water company has a total of 140,124 acres in the northwest of England. The shareholders of United Utilities effectively own significant parts of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria.
9. The Duke of Atholl’s trusts: 145,700 acres
When Iain Murray, the 10th Duke of Atholl, died in 1996, his Scottish estates, which total 145,700 acres, passed to a charitable trust. The late Duke had no direct heir and was unhappy about the prospect of his estates passing to distant cousin John Murray, a South African land surveyor.
8. DEFRA: 150,549 acres
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has 150,549 acres of land throughout the United Kingdom. This land tends to be located in rural rather than urban areas of Britain.
7. Anders Holch Povlsen: 218,000 acres
Danish retail magnate Anders Holch Povlsen has acquired 11 Scottish estates in recent years and is shaping up to be Scotland’s largest landowner. With everything tallied up, the billionaire’s Caledonian holdings amount to 218,000 acres.
6. Richard Scott, Duke of Buccleuch & Queensbury: 240,000 acres
One of Europe’s biggest private landowners, the Duke of Buccleuch & Queensbury owns a total of 240,000 acres. The duke has four splendid estates including the 90,000-acre Queensbury Estate in Dumfries and Galloway.
5. RSPB: 324,000 acres
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) of England, Wales and Scotland is the UK’s fifth biggest landowner. The charity has a total of 324,000 acres of farmland, wildlife sanctuaries and more throughout Britain.
4. Crown Estate: 360,000 acres
The Crown Estate totals 360,000 acres, but while it belongs to the reigning monarch, the estate cannot be sold by the Queen and is not considered her private property. The holding includes high value parts of London and colossal tracts of agricultural land.
3. Ministry of Defence: 750,000 acres
Prodigious expanses of the British countryside are given over for the defence of the realm – the military owns a jaw-dropping 750,000 acres of land in the UK, from extensive training grounds to residential properties.
2. National Trust & National Trust for Scotland: 815,000 acres
Together, the National Trust and National Trust for Scotland own around 815,000 acres of land in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, ranging from coastline and countryside to stately homes and pubs, making these conservation organisations Britain’s premier private landowners.
1. Forestry Commission: 2.2 million acres
The UK’s largest public landowner is the Forestry Commission, which has a staggering 2.2 million acres in its portfolio. The government department was established in 1919 to replant and restore forests depleted during World War I.