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24 May 2022

Sometimes it is good to pause and remember those who have inspired and encouraged us along the way.  One such person in my life was Bill Ackworth, who died recently. He farmed just outside Hungerford, and always supported the work of the John Simonds Trust and what we aspired to do on Rushall Farm.

I first came across Little Hidden Farm in the early eighties. I was being driven in a Ranger Rover by my boss William Cumber and his co-director Alec Davey from the M4 down to Hungerford on our way to the company’s 800-acre farm in Wiltshire.  “That’s the fellow who grows and harvests weeds” said Alec with distain.  Little did we realise that Bill’s focus and foresight then would come to shape national agricultural policy so dramatically.  Bill was always aware that he was a steward of the land.  To farm in harmony with the environment would not only benefit wildlife, including the microflora, soils and trees, and improve the landscape, but also sustain the person in charge economically.  He pioneered the re-establishment of wild flower meadows, planted woodland grazing and organic systems, and was always at the forefront of initiatives to improve awareness of good conservation practice.

I was involved with him a few years ago.  He had been very unwell and at eighty was wanting advice on his next 10-year stewardship agreement. It was late May and the farm was fully expressing the fruits of his labours. Fledgling blue tits were being monitored from the kitchen; kestrels were hovering over wild flower meadows in bloom, with an array of butterflies enjoying their presence.  I was impressed and inspired, but the following day I reflected as I sheared our sheep “How ridiculous, he is eighty, Sue is seventy and working all hours and he has just had a ‘shot across the bows’ Surely it is time to retire.”  I pleaded my case over several subsequent visits, but Bill, with back to the Aga, sitting and stooped, looked up and with a smile said “Why should I ever want to leave this place?”. That was Bill, steadfastly committed to his vision, an inspiration to me and many others, someone who loved life, loved people and dwelt on things which were good and wholesome.  But then he also carried the pain of the indifference of so many fellow farmers to their true responsibility to this precious planet.

NOW we need to all step up and share that responsibility in any way that we can!

 

John Bishop