Celebrating VE Day in a pandemic

On the 75th anniversary of VE Day, I am reflective of the sacrifices that were made and I want to celebrate the end of hostilities and the commencement of the post-war era of peace in Europe.

I am thinking of my late parents (who had yet to meet) and what they were doing on VE Day. My father spent the war in Belfast, during the day he worked for the General Post Office, maintaining the telephone system and by night he was a fire watcher in case the ship yards were bombed. My mother worked on the family farm in Hartland, North Devon before moving to Exeter to train as a nurse.

Mum and Dad on their wedding day

I’m also thinking of my late wife Cesca’s parents. Her father is British and her mother is German. Her stepfather was also German and was severely injured in Stalingrad, was evacuated to Eastern Germany where he had to hide underground as the Red Army advanced on Berlin, he then escaped to West Germany where he trained as a Doctor and ended his career as a District Surgeon in Kenya. Our lives consist of complicated and tangled webs.

Gunter and Renate (Cesca’s stepdad and mum), my mum, me, Josh, Cesca and Michael (Cesca’s dad)

My mother, who died 7 years ago would have looked forward to this celebration of VE day, she would be looking forward to seeing the Queen, her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren; she would be waiting expectantly to see what the Queen was wearing. My father, who died 12 years ago would have be less keen on those aspects of the day but would nevertheless have humoured mum. Afterwards, I think he would have dug out his treasured copy of Churchill’s World War 2 volume on VE Day ‘Triumph and Tragedy’ where he would have read Winston’s words – clearly and unambiguously managing the population’s expectations..


His treasured Churchill books

“I wish I could tell you tonight that all our toils and troubles were over. …… But, on the contrary, I must warn you, as I did when I began this five years’ task  ….. that there is still a lot to do, and that you must be prepared for further efforts of mind and body ….. You must not weaken in any way in your alert and vigilant frame of mind.”

And so, to the celebrations, I have decided to bake a cake, and not any cake, Churchill’s favourite fruit cake! The National Trust, who now look after Chartwell, Churchill’s home, are of course also renowned for their cakes and have published the recipe which Mrs Landemare, Churchill’s wartime cook, used to bake for him.


It is not just cooking the cake that matters, presentation is also important, especially as it is a National Trust cake! This takes me back to a glorious and happy day a couple of years before my mum died. We took her to London where in the morning we visited Buckingham Palace and in the afternoon we took tea at the Savoy. Mum really enjoyed the day and whilst we were at Buckingham Palace she bought a Queen Victoria cake stand which I now have.

Queen Victoria’s Cake Stand

Me and mum in the gardens of Buckingham Palace

But of course, these VE Day celebrations have not gone to plan, a virus has cancelled our street parties and forbidden us to go to the pub. There is no shortage of irony in the fact that our 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe  coincides with a global pandemic. The end of World War 2 redefined the remainder of the 20th century and SARS-CoV-2 will redefine our lives for at least the next decade. We have yet to ‘wrestle the invisible mugger to the ground’, we are not approaching VCovid Day, if we are lucky we might be close to Tobruk. Churchill however can help us again, by clearly setting out where we find ourselves and again managing our expectations. In November 1942, after the Desert Campaign he, of course, said this.

“This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”

Right, I’m off to share Churchill’s favourite fruit cake with Josh and Hollie!

Churchill’s favourite fruit cake on the Queen Victoria Cake Stand


This is what 10 Tors is all about

As I said in my blog yesterday – 10 Tors is a life changing experience for the young people involved – see here. Today the post below appeared on Facebook – this is why all of us involved with 10 Tors do it!

What more could you want.

National Trust Wild Tribe were one person short a couple of week’s ago and we took this person on after he had been rejected by his Institution as being incapable of completing the 55 mile course.

He came in with the Wild Tribe 2 hours before the team that rejected him.

Tony’s pep talks are powerful and young people are brilliant.


Ten Tors 2017 and the Wild Tribe

Over the weekend the 10 Tors Challenge took place on Dartmoor. With Pete Davies, I run the National Trust’s Wild Tribe teams and we work very closely with Torquay Boys Grammar School. In total we had 8 teams out on the moor – three 35 milers, two 45ers and three 55 mile teams. All successfully completed their walks and we were able to leave the moor by 12.45pm on the Sunday. A hugely successful weekend for everyone and a brilliant culmination to the months of training. Well done to all our teams.

Belted Galloway cattle grazing on the flanks of Rowtor. These cattle were put onto the moor from their winter grazing pastures immediately after the start – hours earlier 2400 young people walked up the hills from the start- the delay in releasing them onto the Common ensured there were no dangerous cattle / young people interactions!

This is the National Trust Wild Tribe 35 mile team approaching the finish

This is the National Trust Wild Tribe 45 mile team

Receiving their medals on the podium

This is the National Trust Wild Tribe 55 mile team coming down from Rowtor

Approaching the finish line

All done! Covering 55 miles (and the rest) in under 30 hours is a fantastic achievement.

Looking down at the finish – lots of supporters waiting to greet their teams

Looking across to West Mill Tor and Yes Tor – it all looks very calm and quiet.

One of the highlights of my year – the seventh year the National Trust has run and supported 10 Tors teams – hopefully many more to come.

All those young people who complete the 10 Tors Challenge undergo a life changing experience which gives them all sorts of skills for their coming lives: resilience, comradeship, fitness, leadership, endurance and a love of Dartmoor and the outdoors.

Thanks to the Army for organising it and thanks to the many volunteers and staff of TBGS who help the National Trust and its Wild Tribe teams participate.

New Markets for Land and Nature

Prior to our vote to leave the European Union in June this year it was nigh on impossible to find an environmentalist who supported Brexit and after the vote had occurred there was a widespread gloom and fear about what the future held for the environment. However once Theresa May had made it clear that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ the mood rapidly changed and all the major environmental NGOs and others began to explore the opportunities that existed in re-designing the subsidy system after we left the Common Agricultural Policy. For example in August the National Trust issued a six point plan which set out what it thought a re-designed new scheme should include – see here. Dame Helen Ghosh, the Trust’s Director General for example said “Public money must only pay for public goods. Currently, most of a £600m pot from the EU (out of the £3.1bn CAP funding) benefits wildlife and the environment. The majority of the remainder is allocated based on the size of farm. There will need to be a transition to the new world but this basic income support payment should be removed.

I have also written recently about the Uplands Alliance meeting in London where options for the future were discussed – see here.

Yesterday another approach and contribution was launched, again involving the National Trust but this time in partnership with the Green Alliance ‘New Markets for Land and Nature. How Natural Infrastructure Schemes could pay for a better environment‘. You can download the report here.

For the past few years the National Trust have been developing their Land and Nature programme, an attempt to define and expand the Trust’s work in saving, creating and enjoying nature. One of the work streams was exploring new economic models for agriculture. This work carried out by the Green Alliance for the National Trust is the first major contribution to that debate.


The Executive Summary states “Agriculture is under pressure to increase production, reduce its environmental impact and eliminate its dependence on public subsidy. Many farming businesses are operating at the limit of their profitability, often to the detriment of soil health, water quality and biodiversity. Farmers are in a unique position to restore and protect the natural environment, but there is no commercial basis for the provision of natural services from farmland. This report sets out a mechanism for establishing natural markets to bring new income streams into farming, supporting a fundamentally different approach to land use.

The report uses an ecosystem service approach and focuses on a market for ‘slow clean water’. They argue that by creating such a market water companies would not need to spend so much on pollution reduction and water treatment measures and bodies such as the Environment Agency,  local authorities and insurance companies would not need to spend so much on flood protection schemes along with the costs of clearing up after such events had occurred.

This approach builds on DEFRA’s ecosystem payment model by increasing revenue with ‘a market for avoided costs’. The report suggests that the cost of floods and treatment for water pollution to be £2,373 million a year, equivalent to £24 million a year for each of the one hundred water catchments in England.

This diagram gives an overview of how Natural Infrastructure Schemes (NIS) and NIS Plus might work – driven by farmers and land managers and funded by industry / public authorities who save money from the avoided costs of pollution and flooding which then benefits a variety of different customers.

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-11-02-13This graphic sets out how such an approach would benefit farmers and land managers

It is a very interesting contribution to the debate on post Brexit agriculture, the State of Nature, flooding and pollution. It offers a mechanism whereby farmers, especially those in the uplands can secure their financial futures by providing additional ‘public goods’ along with an albeit reduced farming output. It offers the opportunity of giving upland farmers a large, important and publicly valued societal role at a time when their own self esteem has been reduced by an otherwise unprofitable agricultural regime.

Hatfield Forest

“Hatfield is of supreme interest in that all the elements of a medieval Forest survive: deer, cattle, coppice woods, pollards, scrub, timber trees, grassland and fen …. As such it is almost certainly unique in England and possibly in the world. Hatfield is the only place where one can step back into the Middle Ages to see, with only a small effort of the imagination, what a Forest looked like in use.”

Oliver Rackham in ‘The Last Forest’

I visited Hatfield Forest in Essex the other day – it is one of my favourite places and the quote above by Britain’s greatest historical ecologist and woodland expert, the late and greatly missed Dr Oliver Rackham explains why.

The Last Forest - Rackham
His monograph on the site will never be bettered – it is a masterpiece of research and insight.

Hatfield Forest 1The main public entrance – the start of the magic

Hatfield Forest 2The wood pasture – shimmering with buttercups and ancient trees

Hatfield Forest 3Old fallen oaks left as dead wood habitats

Hatfield Forest 4Magnificent spreading oaks

Hatfield Forest 5Recently pollarded young trees which will make up the next generation

Hatfield Forest 6Cattle grazing the lawns

Hatfield Forest 7Oak veterans everywhere

HornbeamA place of hornbeams – one of Britain’s rarer trees

Hatfield Forest 8Of coppice

Hatfield Forest 9Of even more huge spreading trees

I never tire of visiting Hatfield Forest – one of the National Trust’s greatest places. I was lucky enough to visit Hatfield in 1985 with Oliver Rackham and I will never forget that day. Hatfield Forest is near Stanstead Airport just off the M11 – if you are in the area I suggest you pay a visit – you won’t regret it.