It’s taken several years to get this far with the Bevis Trust. Finally we have created a ‘starter pack’ of Trustees and registered a Not for Profit Company and opened a bank account for the Company (which took a mere three months). What has taken the time has been developing the vision of where we want to go. Over the past 35 years we have built the farm up from zero, buying in land whenever we had the chance and could afford it. None of our children are interested in carrying on with the farm. My eldest son Jamie is now dairy farming in New Zealand and the others have no wish to run what is now 290 acres or so in west Wales. At the same time we have done a lot of work on the farm over the years and you can read about some of this on the website. Finally we reached a point where we asked the question, when making our Wills: ‘What is more important – people or the land?’
So, after making some provision for our children, we decided that the future of the land was important to us, and that we did not want to see the farm sold off and turned into a housing estate. But who would look after it when we are dead? The solution was to bequeath everything to a not for profit Company and create a Board of Trustees. Being impatient people, we couldn’t wait to die, so we have formed the Company while we are still alive and able to shape it along the lines we envisaged.
But the Bevis Trust is not just about land. Bevis was a boy in a story by Richard Jefferies. Bevis grew up on a farm in Wiltshire near where I too grew up a hundred years later. It tells how Bevis and his friend Mark had adventures together out on the farms, and gradually became more self-reliant, and more aware of nature as they grew up. The story is related against a backdrop of farming as it was then, the seasons unroll with their changing farm tasks and the labourers, gaffers and social routines. Much of it strikes a chord with me, growing up in a small village on the Wiltshire downs in the 1950s in shorts made of cut down trousers, bringing in the cows for hand milking and gawping at a new-fangled tractor farting its way up the lane. The sawmill was an adventure then, with its big long drive belt (no health and safety!) and smell of fresh sawn oak. The hurdler used to bang his hazel rods into an old beam to get his hurdle started. Rabbits were still a pest, myxie had yet to decimate them, and brass snares, purse nets, ferrets and long dogs were in common use to wage war. Threshing time was an adventure, with string tied round long trousers to stop rats going up your legs and hilarious shrieking as we tried to nobble the fleeing rats as we got down to the base of the ricks. I still remember seeing my first fox when we were gleaning potatoes.
The farming year dominated everything, as it still does, but now it seems that farming has become rather divorced from wildlife, and wildlife enthusiasts have little understanding of farming. I’ve seen this more and more in the last two or three decades, and nothing illustrates it better than the debacle we have with badgers and bovine Tb. Therefore my wife Barbro and I resolved that the Bevis Trust would work to show how practical farming can operate side by side with wildlife, and give people a chance to come and learn about it, bringing different views together. The average income of a Welsh farmer in 2016 is predicted to be £13,000. Average age about 62. About 25% don’t have computers, because a lot of us cannot get broadband. You’d be better off being a waiter! And how many occupations require you to put the best part of a million pounds on the table to pay for your workplace? With bottled milk selling at 75% of the price of bottled water, farming is surely a mug’s game. Pushed to these limits, few farmers can afford the luxury of even thinking about wildlife.
Now the Bevis Trust has finally become an entity and I will tell you more about our adventures in another blog. All the best stories should leave you in suspense…