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Ian MacNicol

PUBLISHED: 07:23 13 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:00 22 October 2010

Ian MacNicol, pictured here in 1986, was a great friend to the farming and business community.

Ian MacNicol, pictured here in 1986, was a great friend to the farming and business community.

Landowner, countryman and businessman Ian MacNicol has died suddenly at home, at Stody Lodge, on his family's North Norfolk estate at the age of 62.

Landowner, countryman and businessman Ian MacNicol has died suddenly at home, at Stody Lodge, on his family's North Norfolk estate at the age of 62.

His death, which came after a recent holiday to China, has shocked the agricultural and business community in Norfolk and across the country.

He strode the farming world as an increasingly influential advocate with a very genuine love of the countryside and the rural community - at every level. He had an infectious enthusiasm for the countryside, which he shared with everyone - from Whitehall Ministers and top civil servants to welcoming visitors coming to enjoy the gardens, footpaths and bridleways on the estate.

Mr MacNicol, who was a former national president of the Country Land and Business Association, helped to transform the organisation into an even more effective lobby on a range of rural business issues.

He spent more than a quarter of a century at the heart of CLA affairs, starting his apprenticeship on the Norfolk committee and rising rapidly through the ranks as his obvious talents were appreciated and then utilised.

David Fursdon, CLA president, said that Mr MacNicol had been actively involved in the access and so-called "right to roam" debate and secured many practical concessions for landowners.

He was appointed OBE in 2001 for services to agriculture.

However, his contribution to rural affairs did not step there. If there was a challenge, whether raising funds for charities including the nearby Camphill Communities at Thornage or his support for the National Gardens Scheme, he would always respond. Even in 1988, the prospect of raising £750,000 as chairman of the appeal fund, was just another mountain to climb and to conquer.

He was appointed a deputy lieutenant of Norfolk in 1998 after serving as the county's high sheriff two years earlier.

Yesterday the lord lieutenant of Norfolk, RichardJewson, said his death "was a tragedy, and he had so much more to offer".

Mr MacNicol was not afraid to lead from the front and commanded universal respect as a highly-talented and hard-working figure.

He managed to combine a close interest in the family's long-established business interests in the West Country running livestock markets, particularly in recent years, pioneering the use of electronic marketing, to minimise animal movements with a great love of the family's Stody estate, which he improved and expanded to 4000 acres with an eye for future generations to enjoy.

His decision to plant a Millennium Avenue of trees on the edge of the gardens was just one of dozens of projects undertaken with his wife, Adel, who revitalised the garden's 15 acres of azaleas and rhododenrons into the finest in East Anglia. Naturally, they opened for charity every May.

He was determined to promote a sense of community and again he led by example. He stopped selling surplus houses on the estate in the early 1980s, later reflecting, ruefully and with typical humour, that his sale of a mill for £15,000 later became Norfolkfirst £1m home. He insisted on letting cottages and property to local people because he wanted to help.

He led from the front and was respected for his drive and determination to get things done quietly and efficiently but always with great charm and humour. Even when taking unpleasant decisions, he was able to take opponents with him because of his firm belief in doing the right thing.

His vision and a steely determination to make changes was seen at the Royal Agricultural Society of England when he became chairman of council. Quietly, effectively and with drive, he managed to transform the Royal Show and National Agricultural Centre by slimming down the bureaucratic structures into a leaner and more focused organisation. And, by the way, the Royal Show was given an enthusiastic new lease of life, future and direction. The massive changes were, in truth, badly needed and Mr MacNicol should be given the credit for such bold changes.

Henry Cator, chairman of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, who served on the Royal's council, said that Mr MacNicol's death would "leave a huge hole." And his successor, Broadland farmer, Louis Baugh, praised his leadership for "great style and flair."

Born in Newcastle, he has lived at Stody, near Melton Constable, since the age of 12. After school at Fettes College and then the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, he qualified as a chartered surveyor with John D Wood. It was to stand him in very good stead.

He was the founder chairman of North Norfolk Radio, which is based on the estate, and a director of East Port Great Yarmouth among his many interests.

He was heavily involved in local affairs as chairman of the governors of the nearby Astley Primary School, and also Beeston Hall School and Tudor Hall. He served as a member of his rural district council and was chairman of Stody Parish Council for many years.

On the broader front, he was chairman of the Scott Abbott Trust, based near Peterborough, and a former trustee of the Game Conservancy and Farming and Wildlife Trust's national management council.

As an ambassador for farming and the countryside, Mr MacNicol's great sense of humour and sheer enthusiasm for life will be sadly missed. It might seem trite but he quite genuinely did not have an enemy in the world. As one of his many friends, he will be missed.

He leaves a widow, Adel, and four children, Arabella, Katie, Charlie and George, and a grandson.

A private funeral is expected to be held next week. Details will be announced but a memorial service is expected to be held next month.


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