The only part of my career that I have ever actually planned was that, after working at Natural England (and its predecessors) for 25+ years, I was going to do something totally different for the last few years of my working life. So much for my career plan…! It was a bit of a random moment when I nervously phoned up Jenny and asked if there might possibly be some work going at FWAG SouthWest to tide me over. Jenny’s positive response and the welcome I received from the team pointed to the fact it was a very lucky move and I am so pleased that I have continued to use my work experience built up over many years. 

Working at FWAG SW is never dull! Yes, there are the inevitable tussles with the Government bureaucrats, time sheet completions and incomprehensible financial spreadsheets! However, the people I have met and the land I have seen has been inspirational and awe inspiring. As for learning on the job, I can confirm that certainly never stops! Above all I have huge admiration for the land owners and managers that make daily decisions in the face of endless choices of livestock breeding, fertiliser programmes, crop rotations, uncertain economics, sometimes adverse publicity and of course the unknown English weather, but still have the time and energy to commit towards the future and investing in true land stewardship, whilst trying to feed us all.

My highlights include some of the farmer events that we have held where you can feel a swell of enthusiasm for a topic growing, hearing the buzz of conversations and the sharing of knowledge and experience. I have particularly enjoyed the growing realisation that environmental management isn’t all about pretty flowers and field corners but can actually be a positive part of the farming system.  Another highlight was visiting Knepp; whatever your thoughts on the rights and wrongs of farmland not growing food, it was a brave step to let 3,500 acres go ‘back to nature’. It did, more than anything, make me question 30 years’ experience of conservation and the value of sometimes just letting go rather than micromanagement of sward heights and composition. Not for everyone, but there are surely nuggets that can be adopted on many farms.

Another highlight is of course the friendships I have made amongst colleagues and farmers. The help, support, and advice for which I thank you all and which I know will extend well beyond my last day with FWAG SW on 30th August 2020! Finally, I would like to share this poem:


The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

And I wake in the night at the least sound

In fear of what my life and children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

Who do not tax their lives with forethought

Of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

Waiting with their light.  For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Sarah, Charlotte, Bel and Dan from the Gloucestershire team!


Thank you Bel for your knowledge and hard work, you will be greatly missed at FWAG SW. We all wish you the very best for your future adventures!