GUY ADAMS: How one of Prince Charles’ favorite charities got involved in mud throwing

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A bona fide national treasure must of course be willing to ‘give back’ to society.

So when Dame Judi Dench was invited to become a patron of the Countryside Restoration Trust, she seized the opportunity.

Her role at the charity, which campaigns for wildlife-friendly farming, would support two great loves of her life: the British countryside and the work of her partner, a conservationist named David Mills, who is one of the stewards.

The Oscar-winning actress duly dressed in her best crawl gear and posed for photos with fellow patron Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, declaring herself ‘privileged’ to be invited to promote the Trust’s ‘massive’ ‘pioneering work’ .

The Oscar-winning actress duly dressed in her finest crawl gear and posed for photos with fellow patron Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, left, while Robin Page is seen on the right

The Oscar-winning actress duly dressed in her finest crawl gear and posed for photos with fellow patron Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, left, while Robin Page is seen on the right

Still, Britain’s countryside is not always green and pleasant: sometimes you come across an angry farmer, and every now and then rubbish is thrown away.

So it is that, two years after agreeing to become the famous figurehead of the CRT, 86-year-old Dame Judi has been drawn into a toxic public dispute.

At the center of hostilities is one such angry farmer: the formidable Robin Page, a bestselling writer, newspaper columnist, political campaigner and former BBC presenter One Man And His Dog.

Mr. Page has devoted much of the past three decades to the charity he co-founded in the early 1990s to reverse the damage to nature caused by industrial agriculture.

Prince Charles, a longtime supporter and friend of Mr. Page, spoke at the Trust's organization's birthday party a few years ago.  But how much longer will Mr. Page be part of this illustrious organization?

Prince Charles, a longtime supporter and friend of Mr. Page, spoke at the Trust's organization's birthday party a few years ago.  But how much longer will Mr. Page be part of this illustrious organization?

Prince Charles, a longtime supporter and friend of Mr. Page, spoke at the Trust’s organization’s birthday party a few years ago. But how much longer will Mr. Page be part of this illustrious organization?

Today it secures £ 33 million of farmland, covering approximately 2,500 acres, spread across 18 picturesque sites, and last year alone the Trust received over £ 4 million in donations and bequests.

Prince Charles, a longtime supporter and friend of Mr. Page, spoke at the Trust’s organization’s birthday party a few years ago.

But how much longer will Mr. Page be part of this illustrious organization?

Last week, the 77-year-old conservationist launched a furious assault on all five of his fellow CRT board members, accusing them of conspiring to have him ‘fired’.

Stuck in his sights was Dame Judi’s partner, whom he also accuses of leading this hostile coup d’état.

“I love Judi very much,” says Page. ‘She is amazing. But her partner David Mills is one of the people who agitates against me. We can hurry. But now her guy has decided he wants to be a top dog and so I get bullied. ‘

Hostilities between Page on the one hand and Mr. Mills and fellow administrators on the other have been brewing for some time. But things escalated to outright warfare last Monday when fellow board members wrote to Page that they had decided to “end” his paid role as executive chairman of the charity.

A round of mud slinging followed, with accusations of highly abusive behavior (and worse) by both sides.

“Robin is acting like a tyrant, a despot,” said Tim Scott, one of the administrators. “ He’s decided we’re all out to get him, when in fact we’re just trying to do our legal duty, protect the cause and make sure it’s run legally, which is what it means. cannot be if he is both a trustee and a paid employee. ‘

I understand that complaints have been filed with the Charities Commission in recent days, again by both parties. Page has also rewritten his will to remove a bequest to the Trust from the cottage where he lives with his wife Lulu, plus about 30 acres of pasture around it.

“This is truly one of the dirtiest disputes I’ve ever come across,” says a knowledgeable source. ‘I can’t see how it can be resolved without seriously harming the cause. It’s all very, very sad. ‘

To fully understand this ugly case – in which, it must be emphasized, neither side is flawless – we have to turn the clock back nearly 30 years to 1993, when Page used a newspaper column asking for help to preserve a stream where otters near his village of Barton in Cambridgeshire.

The money poured in, and he bought 20 acres of the property, promising to ensure it would be grown in a “wildlife-friendly” way.

In collaboration with Gordon Beningfield, a well-known nature artist, and the conservationist Sir Laurens van der Post, Prince Charles’s mentor and Prince William’s godfather, he then set up the CRT to raise money to expand this experiment into others. corners of the British countryside where industrial farming practices occur. decimated bird and animal populations.

It would turn out to be a huge success. Today, the Trust’s land near Barton covers 400 acres and is now one of 18 sites it manages.

Things started to unravel, I can reveal, in 2017, when Page got into a falling out with the Trust’s then-recently appointed CEO, Sarah Stannage. He became convinced that Ms. Stannage was somehow working with TV host Chris Packham – who campaigns against shooting and nearly all forms of predator control – to put “awakened” animal rights activists in higher roles in the CRT.

Page’s fears escalated when he discovered that an employee she had hired had a Mark Avery as her referee, who co-founded an anti-shooting organization called Wild Justice with Mr. Packham. The ensuing argument led to both the departure of Ms. Stannage and her financial manager in November 2017. Together, they received severance packages in excess of £ 30,000.

It also sparked clashes between Mr. Page and his fellow administrators, most of whom did not believe an attempted infiltration had taken place. Three quit that year, and another two the year after.

They were replaced by several of Page’s acquaintances, including (in 2018) Mr Mills, a former farmer who founded the British Wildlife Center and became Dame Judi’s partner after the death of her actor husband Michael Williams in 2001.

The new board decided that in order to fill Ms. Stannage’s boots, Mr. Page would serve as the CRT’s executive chairman at a consultancy that paid him by the hour.

However, Page’s new job led to frequent clashes with administrators.

“With Robin you do things his way or not,” says Tim Scott. All of the administrators are hand-picked by him and most of us have been friends for years, but a common theme is that they quickly find themselves getting the Alex Ferguson hair dryer treatment. [an angry verbal reprimand]

Earlier this year, a dispute over an article Page submitted to the CRT magazine escalated to a point where he was told his contract with the charity violated rules generally prohibiting trustees from taking advantage of their role.

They therefore suggested firing him as executive chairman and transferring him to another job instead.

It quickly went nuclear then. Page hit Twitter: “I’m being bullied out of the Countryside Restoration Trust by a group of greedy older men who just want to take the Trust away from its members. Astonishing. We are talking about greedy people with overly inflated egos. ‘

Several CRT members reacted indignantly and pledged to leave the organization or scrap large bequests from their will.

Page remains stubborn with his guns for the time being. This also applies to administrators.

Unless a solution to this impasse can be found, the future of the very dignified charity that Prince Charles and Dame Judi worship is seriously threatened – one might say, thanks to one man and his dogma.