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Obituary - Lord Peter Melchett

Lord Peter Melchett, who has passed away at the age of 71  Picture: Matthew Usher

Lord Peter Melchett, who has passed away at the age of 71 Picture: Matthew Usher

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Lord Peter Melchett passed away peacefully at his beloved Norfolk farm on Wednesday night.

Lord Melchett leads the attack on the genetically-modified crop at Lyng, in 1999  Picture: Greenpeace/MorganLord Melchett leads the attack on the genetically-modified crop at Lyng, in 1999 Picture: Greenpeace/Morgan

He leaves an unrivalled environmental legacy, after a life working passionately for the environment and his vision of an organic countryside.

Peter Robert Henry Mond, the 4th Baron Melchett, was born on February 24, 1948, the son of an industrialist.

He succeeded to his father’s titles upon his death in 1973 and became a Lord-in-waiting after Harold Wilson’s Labour party was re-elected to govern the following year.

He worked in the Department for the Environment, where he chaired an inquiry into pop festivals, which resulted in legislation which would allow events like Glastonbury to flourish. He also oversaw some of the first legislation protecting wildlife.

Greenpeace activists taking part in direct action at Lyng  Picture: Greenpeace/MorganGreenpeace activists taking part in direct action at Lyng Picture: Greenpeace/Morgan

By the early 1980s, he was on the opposition front benches in the Lords, after Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives were elected. There, he tabled many of the 1,200 amendments at the committee stages of the landmark Wildlife and Countryside Act, including protection from shooting for the curlew.

He worked for wildlife groups, was president of the Ramblers’ Association and was a council member of the RSPB, an advisor to Friends of the Earth and the RSPCA.

In 1985, he was arrested with his partner Cassandra Wedd after they joined protestors cutting the chain link fence surrounding RAF Sculthorpe, near Fakenham, at an anti-nuclear protest.

That year, he became a board member of Greenpeace UK and was made its executive director in 1989.

Lord Melchett smiles for the cameras outside Norwich Crown Court in September 2000, after winning his case with the GM protesters   Picture: Natasha LysterLord Melchett smiles for the cameras outside Norwich Crown Court in September 2000, after winning his case with the GM protesters Picture: Natasha Lyster

The group grew rapidly as its campaigns gathered momentum. With Lord Melchett at the helm it became a key part of a global coalition which took on the whalers, the nuclear industry and launched a worldwide campaign against genetically-modified food and crops.

The latter saw Lord Melchett arrested, after he led a group of 28 activists in an attack which destroyed a field of GM maize at Lyng, near Dereham, in the summer of 1999.

All were charged with theft and criminal damage but were found not guilty after the jury at Norwich Crown Court heard they attacked the crop because they feared its pollen could spread to other crops.

Outside court, Lord Melchett said the case sent out a clear message to the government and chemical companies to stop growing GM crops.

Lord Melchett farmed 890 acres organically at Courtyard farm, at Ringstead  Picture: Matthew UsherLord Melchett farmed 890 acres organically at Courtyard farm, at Ringstead Picture: Matthew Usher

The verdict sparked anger among the farming community.

After leaving Greenpeace in 2001, he did consultancy work for companies including Ikea and Iceland.

In 2002, he became policy director at the Soil Association, which campaigns for organic farming.

Two years earlier, he converted the 890-acre farm he inherited from his father to fully-organic production, having started the process in 1990.

Courtyard Farm at Ringstead, near Hunstanton, became a showpiece for the movement, with wildlife and flowers encouraged on the rolling chalk downs alongside meat and arable production.

Chemical fertilisers were not used and animals were free to roam in the fresh air, while the farm itself had been placed in a trust whose stated aim was maximising public enjoyment of the land and its wildlife.

In 2010, Lord Melchett won Norfolk’s top farm conservation award - the Ian MacNichol award. Judges noted no hedges had been removed since the 1780s at Courtyard Farm.

Earlier this year, the Soil Association launched its What I’m Made Of campaign. Lord Melchett said on its blog: “I am an organic farmer, and I love working to promote and explain the system of food production which I believe in so strongly.

“In my lifetime, we’ve seen an explosion of information about the products we buy, how and where they are made, where the ingredients or raw materials come from, and so on.

“But in the areas where we work, with farming, health and beauty, and textiles, with still have a long way to go to anything like full transparency or honesty.”

Lord Peter Melchett passed away at Courtyard Farm on the night of Wednesday, August 29, at the age of 71. He leaves a partner, Cassandra Wedd and children Jessica and Jay.

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