Farmer who served his community

Date: Tuesday 31st October 2017

FARMER and conservationist John Burra, who also served for 25 years as a magistrate, has died, aged 88.

Born at Ghyll Bank, Raisbeck, near Orton — where his family had farmed since 1795 — in 1928, John was the son of William and Elizabeth Burra.

He was educated at Orton Church of England Primary School and Appleby Grammar School. He obtained a good school certificate at the early age of 14, which enabled him to leave school and start work.

John joined his father on the family farm in 1942, a time when farming was being raised from recession to provide 80 per cent. of the nation’s wartime food requirement.

The Burras were acknowledged to be one of the best and most progressive farming families in the country and worked with ICI, Newcastle University and the Ministry of Agriculture to develop crop and grassland management, diary and livestock production, to meet the wartime and post war policy of self-sufficiency in certain foodstuffs.

This represented a historic change from the subsistence farming of the past, to modern, commodity-based agriculture, with mechanisation, fertiliser use, loose housing, and a change from Shorthorn cattle to Friesians. They helped to lead a revolution in farming that brought prosperity to two generations of farmers.

John and his sister, Mary, were deeply involved with young farmers’ clubs and John went on to become leader of Orton Young Farmers Club, and then chairman of the Westmorland County Federation of Young Farmers Clubs.

In August, 1956, he married Diana Morris, who hailed from near Pershore, Worcestershire, and was a former chairman of Worcester YFC.

Over the years, he adopted a less intensive farming model which gave scope to his lifelong interest in wildlife and conservation. As well as planting trees, he made ponds stocked with fish, encouraged bird life and more diverse field ecology.

In 1992, five years before retiring as a farmer, he moved to live at Ingmoor, in the village of Orton.

Although he never sought any office, John always accepted responsibility when asked. He was a magistrate for 25 years and a member of the Westmorland committee of the CLA before becoming its chairman.

Like his father, he was a churchwarden at All Saints, Orton, and was chairman of the Manor Court. He was also a tax commissioner, a member of the regional committee of the National Trust and a fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society.

Latterly, he was a member of the Kirkby Stephen Probus Club and attended a drop-in session at Orton chapel.

John enjoyed country sports and sharing the Ghyll Bank shoot with a wide gathering of friends. He also loved listening to classical music and was a frequent attender of orchestral concerts.

He also loved reading, especially history, and was an authority on agricultural history including much that had been passed on in the oral tradition.

John was much loved by his family and his community and will be greatly missed. His was a life well lived and he was noted for his friendship, his quiet, unassertive wisdom, the example of his duty, and the service he rendered to the people of his time.

He is survived by his wife, Diana, daughter Kate, son-in-law Kyle Blue, grandchildren, John and Sarah, and sister, Mary Jordan, who lives near Egremont, and her family.