Dame Judi Dench is set to judge schoolchildren’s poetry competition in aid of endangered barn owls at Bere Marsh

CRT Patron, Dame Judi Dench
CRT Patron Dame Judi Dench at Bere Marsh Farm
Hundreds of Dorset schoolchildren wanting to save the endangered Barn Owls at Bere Marsh Farm have had a dramatic boost to their new poetry and performance competition from one of Britain’s most illustrious and decorated actresses, Dame Judi Dench.

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The Oscar and BAFTA awards winning star has thrilled youngsters and teachers at schools throughout the Blandford and Sturminster Newton areas by agreeing to judge the ‘Icons in the Landscape’ competition in support of the fund raising campaign to replace the roof on the beloved owls’ tumbledown home in which they have nested and reared young for over 20 years.

The competition

The competition, which has a junior section for youngsters in the 7-11 age group and a senior category open to those aged between 12-14, requires entrants to write, perform and record a poem inspired by the term, Icons in the Landscape. They can, if they wish, ask someone else to perform it or be joined by others in their own performance.

It is open to all the schools in the Blandford Schools Network, including Bryanston, Knighton House, The Blandford School and eight local primary schools, as well as five specially invited schools including Sturminster Newton High, William Barnes Primary, St Nicholas Primary, Clayesmore School (Prep and Senior School) and Hanford Prep School.

Overall, it is anticipated that close to 1,000 youngsters will take part in the competition for which the closing date is November 13.

Announcement of the winning entries and runners up will be on November 27.


‘It is no exaggeration to say excitement levels are through the roof,’ says Charlotte Weatherley, Assistant Head of Knighton House School and creator of the Icons competition which launches this week.

‘We are absolutely delighted by Dame Judi’s wonderful gesture of support as she will be offering her expertise to our young writers and performers and casting an expert gaze over their efforts.

‘At Knighton House and, indeed, throughout all of Dorset, we take our learning very seriously. What we learn is as important as how we learn it. In the very varied roles she has played and her resilience under difficult circumstances, Dame Judi Dench personifies the learner all pupils aspire to be.’

Resources and Ideas for Teachers

If you need inspiration for using the competition in your curriculum, download this pack of resources.

Parents please note: By submitting an entry, you confirm that you agree to any personal information provided with your entry being used to administer the competition. You also agree to your child’s name, age, school and performance being used in future publications and announcements by Knighton House School and Countryside Restoration Trust.

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It is in support of the £30,000 fund raising campaign launched last month by the wildlife friendly farming charity, the Countryside Restoration Trust, as its first initiative after the purchase of the iconic Bere Marsh Farm at Shillingstone, near Blandford Forum.

The Barn Owls, a key indicator species of a healthy eco environment and regularly spotted by families, ramblers, naturalists and cyclists using trailways and footpaths which cross the 92-acre farm, are in severe danger of becoming homeless - just before the onset of winter - because the roof of their ancient barn is on the brink of collapse.

‘The Barn Owls are iconic of Bere Marsh and very much beloved by young and old throughout the surrounding community. We felt compelled to help the CRT in its efforts to save them from becoming forced out and homeless. It would have been unthinkable not to act’ points out Charlotte Weatherley.

The support and enthusiasm of the schools for the beloved owls struck Dame Judi, Patron of the Countryside Restoration Trust, and so she decided the youngsters should get her support.

Joining her in the judging duties will be local Dorset poet and writer, David Caddy, author of eight books and editor of the international literary journal, Tears in the Fence.
Elaine Spencer-White at Bere Marsh Farm

Says Elaine Spencer-White, CRT manager at Bere Marsh, ‘Icons in the Landscape is a wonderful tribute to the barn owls and a brilliant subject for a poetry competition. I’m sure it will inspire some terrific entries and Dame Judi with David Caddy will have a very challenging time picking the winners.

‘We are grateful to all the schools and pupils who are participating and are delighted that the owls have evoked such affection and support.

‘Saving them is paramount – they are the very symbols of Bere Marsh and our oldest residents.’

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