Yorkley Court Farm is hosting this years RTF spring gathering from the 16th to 25th March.
We are a disparate group of aspiring peasants in the Forest of Dean. At the beginning of last year we reopened an environmental education centre and started gardening amid a barrage of paperwork from Gloucester County Council. Somehow we managed to ‘void’ a possession order and an injunction but eventually it became clear that the legal system and their police officers were far more willing to co operate with the council rather than a bunch of straggling peasants. This, of course, came of no surprise.
However, while we were in the Wilderness we were approached by a couple of residents from the village of Yorkley in the south of the Forest. They came to tell us about a large abandoned farm estate that has fallen into the hands of faceless Bristol based solicitor who has employed the services of an “agricultural receiver” to act as a robust ‘duly authorised manager’.
The land, known as Yorkley Court Farm is 180 acre estate situated along the Lydney Road from Yorkley village opposite Baddensfield Farm and neighbouring Hulks Barn. The south of the land abuts Yorkley Wood; a 100 acre woodland managed by the Forestry commission. The estate is dominated by a three storey farm house (a grade II listed building) and the barns opposite. Near the farmhouse there is an old cottage in a serious state of disrepair, another barn and a well. The land declines to the west where a former opencast strip is now regenerating into a 20 acre woodland. Within the woodland are two Nissen huts built by the armed forces who were called upon to recondition the land when the mining company went bust. The arable land which makes up well over 100 acres was for many generations mainly pasture however it was ploughed for the first time in living memory at the end of 2011.
For generations the farm belonged to one family of tenant dairy farmers. The last tenant finally left the farm in 2004 and the estate was handed back to the trustees, a solicitors firm claiming to be acting on behalf of the ‘owners’. Since then it has transpired that there is no known owner and the land is unregistered. This did not prevent the solicitors from receiving rent from the tenant on this pretense. However, the solicitor dealing with the estate, Michael Barnard was bankrupted after being investigated by the SRA. He has now emigrated to Portugal. After this incident the estate was handed to a firm in Worcester but then was handed back to Barnard’s former partner Richard Tolson. It is Tolson who has employed Barry Hutchison
Barry claims to acting on behalf of the trustee and that the farm is a deceased estate and they are searching for the beneficiaries.
In many ways we have to thank him for being such a wonderfully archetypal ‘bad guy’. He has managed to piss off everyone who cares about the land. He started to assert his authority by shouting at dog walkers, particularly old women, even though there are public footpaths across the farm, threatening to prosecute them with criminal damage for walking on the grass. Until 2011 he was ostensible ‘allowing’ local farmers to use the land for grazing and a local bee keeper as they had been during the occupancy of the last tenant. However, he then decided to throw them all off and instead lease the land to an agricultural contractor to grow barley. For many of the locals this is untenable. It has completely decimated the landscape and destroyed the soil. This year’s crop is rape.
We arrived in June and have since built a camp in and around the Nissen huts in the woodland. We decided against squatting the house partly because of our lack of resources at the time and partly because we had doubts about the local reaction. Particularly the children of the last tenant who still all live locally.
We have since built up a relationship with these descendants and a number of other important local figures most notably historian David Adams who by chance published his book ‘Yorkley; A Disorderly Settlement’ in August last year. The book begins by outlining Yorkley’s origins as a squatted community.
From the outset we have declared that the land is under the stewardship of the Yorkley Court Community Farm Land Trust and the trust has granted the co-operative, Yorkley Court Community Farm license to manage the farm according to the principle of agroecology. Of course it all began as little more than a figment of our imagination but we now have a trust advisory/steering group comprised of the children of the last tenant, the dog trainers, David Adams and ‘Champion of the Forest’ Andrew Gardiner Dist. Cllr. The trust is a private trust and we are registering a trust indenture against the estate. We hope to develop the trust into a public trust using a model of community benefit society when our position is more secure.
We have been working with Co-ops UK to develop a consortia model to run the farm with a number of interested individuals and local businesses. We are also involved in a Heritage Landscape Partnership Scheme and one our group has wrangled their way onto the local stakeholder board as and advisor.
There is of course far more intrigue to this story so if your are interested in finding out more about the forest and what we are doing here in Yorkley come to the Gathering from the 16th to the 25th March. If you’d like to run a workshop or discussion just let us know what it is and when you can come. If you want to help set up the gathering then come earlier to the seed camp form the 9th March.
Please visit the Yorkley Court website for more details.