The long-cherished ‘Dorset Dream’ of pioneering conservation farmer Robin Page this week becomes reality as the Countryside Restoration Trust completes the most significant purchase in its 30 year history of wildlife friendly farming.
Bere Marsh Farm on the banks of the River Stour at Shillingstone, near Blandford Forum, Dorset, is set to become the Trust’s national showcase for its holistic fusion of sustainable, traditional farming methods, habitat restoration and a dedicated education programme focused around the importance of food provenance.
Its idyllic 92 acres of wetland, grassland and woodland, rich in butterflies, birds, wildflowers and rare mammals also makes it the ideal setting to commemorate the Trust’s co-founder and Dorset conservation icon, artist Gordon Beningfield.
‘It is the perfect place for us where we can bring together everything we believe in whilst remembering Gordon and his devotion to the countryside. It represents our vision and why he and I decided to found the Trust all those years ago,’ said Robin Page, Executive Chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust.
‘We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to shape it into the showcase for our work and our vision but it’s a challenge we have long wanted.’
The cornerstone of the CRT’s philosophy is that both traditional and innovative farming methods can be made to work profitably and sustainably together in conjunction with the protection and restoration of wildlife habitats and precious eco-systems.
In all, it has 15 properties throughout the UK ranging from dairy and arable farms to sheep, rare breeds and woodland centres. Running in harmony with these sites is the curriculum based MOSAIC education programme for children at a network of nearby primary schools highlighting where food comes from, the value of its sustainable production alongside wild flora and fauna and how they can play their part in connecting with nature and the wild world.
All these key elements of the CRT’s programme will be brought together at Bere Marsh Farm under the supervision and direction of estate manager, Elaine Spencer White, an agricultural consultant and specialist marketeer who is also a Trustee of the CRT.
‘Bere Marsh has everything we want and need to make it the exemplar farm of our estate,’ she said. ‘The setting is magnificent, the farmstead and land perfect but above all else it has a trailway, footpaths, car parks and a bridleway all running through it – in short, lots and lots of visitors walking by. You could not ask for more in terms of footfall and site awareness.’
Robin Page agrees. ‘Our long term intention is to turn the farm into an education and visitor centre – to re-attach visitors, as well as ourselves, to the land, to our native wildlife and where our food comes from. This will be where we demonstrate everything that he Trust stands for.’
To this end the intention is to introduce a small herd of milking cows, free range hens, a small flock of sheep, an orchard and a nursery. It is even hoped to produce bread at the farm from wheat grown in the fields of other CRT farms as well as beer and cider from CRT barley and apples.
Existing barns and outbuildings will be specially converted to create the education centre alongside a dedicated art gallery devoted to the wildlife artwork of Gordon Beningfield.
‘It is a highly ambitious plan but it will be where the Countryside Restoration Trust puts itself on the map and finally makes our Dorset Dream come true,’ says Robin Page.