An open dialogue with our Friends Many of you will be aware that Robin Page, our charity’s co-founder, has recently expressed concerns about some decisions relating to the future direction of the Countryside Restoration Trust. Whilst differences of opinion are inevitable in any organization, we can surely all agree that discussions should be conducted with courtesy and respect and that there is no place for personal abuse. In response to misleading information published on social media and in newspaper articles we have recently published statements on our website, explaining changes in our governance, and want to provide a fuller explanation of these and other issues. Changes in governance Robin Page’s role as executive chairman was ended in March 2021 in the interests of good governance and in accordance with legal advice. Robin was offered the role of Honorary Chairman. At the time of writing, he has not yet informed the Trustees whether he wishes to accept it. Role of the Trustees All significant decisions about the running of the charity are currently made at quarterly Trustees’ meetings, which are run in accordance with the charity’s Constitution. The minutes are shared for comment after every meeting and then circulated to each Trustee for future reference. All decisions reached by the Trustees at their most recent meetings were agreed unanimously. The charity is fortunate to be able to call on five very experienced Trustees, carefully selected by Robin for their expertise and breadth of knowledge, all of whom have worked closely with him for several years. Nicholas Watts MBE, vice-chair, who has farmed at Vine House since 1964, and was recognized for his services to farming and conservation in Lincolnshire. David Mills MBE, award-winning dairy farmer and founder of the British Wildlife Centre, who was recognized for his services to wildlife conservation. Tim Scott, the Trust’s first tenant farmer in 1993, a member of the committee that formed the charity, and still a tenant farmer to this day, as well as a former district and parish councillor. William Cross, running a 180 acre low input farm with a flock of sheep, woodlands and many ponds that have been restored and newly created. Graham Girling, a retired engineer who has been a long-standing volunteer for the charity and Trustee since 2018. We are in the process of overhauling the organizational structure of the charity. We have grown substantially since the purchase of the first 22 acres in land in 1993, with 18 UK properties now under our management, and we need a more agile approach to decision making and a way to encourage knowledge sharing. We want to make Trustees’ meetings monthly, rather than quarterly, and to have a new senior management team in place by September 2021. The Charity Commission We have recently submitted a serious incident report to the Charity Commission, explaining that there is an ongoing dispute amongst the Trustees. We were advised that this was the correct course of action as public attacks on the charity by one of its own Trustees could cause reputational damage. However, we explained that everything possible was being done to mitigate this and to resolve the situation amicably. Finances The charity’s finances are robust and the number of Friend subscriptions has continued to increase over the last quarter, in line with a steady increase in the numbers who have joined since December 2019. We are fortunate to benefit from generous legacies and, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, we have a strong pipeline of confirmed legacy commitments, which will ensure we can continue to grow the charity in the years ahead. 51 Wimpole Road The decision to sell the uninhabitable house on the periphery of Lark Rise Farm was agreed unanimously at a meeting of the Trustees in September 2020, and again at an extraordinary Trustee meeting in February 2021, both of which Robin attended. We have previously investigated the possibility of redeveloping the house; however, based on the quotes we received, we reluctantly concluded that the costs would be prohibitive and would not represent a good use of the charity’s resources. Meanwhile, we could not justify the ongoing expense of maintaining an empty property. We agreed that selling the property would release funds to be spent on a showcase project that will honour the charity’s heritage and raise greater awareness of our work amongst a wider audience. We are looking forward to sharing these plans in due course and are confident they are in the best traditions of the charity. Bere Marsh Farm Our plans to open the farm to the public with a series of summer events are outlined in a separate news round-up in the Spring edition of The Lark. In the meantime, we remain committed to protecting and conserving wildlife and bird habitats as we work through some of the issues which have arisen from the farm’s previous ownership. Bere Marsh Farm offers an exciting opportunity to raise awareness of the charity’s work, through the proposed visitor and education centre, with an estimated 80,000 people a year using the trailway. The farm will be fundamental to the charity’s future growth; however, there are no plans to relocate the charity to Dorset and any speculation about this should be discounted.