Great advocate for Cumbrian hill farming

Date: Tuesday 12th March 2019

THE Cumbrian hill farming community lost one of its great advocates with the death in Leeds of Geoff Brown, former secretary of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association, aged 72.

Geoff served as secretary of the association for 18 years, and was also well known to farmers in the county through his work with Voluntary Action Cumbria — particularly his role as co-ordinator of the Fells and Dales Leader+ grants programme.

One of three sons of the late Jean and Leonard Brown, he was born and brought up in Northampton. His two brothers were Richard and Stephen. After leaving school, he studied history at Bangor University. It was during school and university holidays that he acquired his love of the Cumbrian fells and upland farming through visits to work at Hollins Farm, Ennerdale, which was run by relatives in the Rawling family.

He subsequently worked for Nottingham University in the field of adult education for farmers. It was while doing this that he met his first wife, Sue. The couple had a son, Noah.

Geoff moved to Cumbria in the late 1970s and went on to do a variety of jobs, including shepherding at Cold Fell, near Ennerdale, and Naddle Farm, Burnbanks, and working for the Groundwork Trust charity.

He took an active interest in politics — he served for a time as a local councillor representing the Labour Party — and environmental issues. It was during a march to protest against a plan to raise the level of Ennerdale Water that he met his second wife, Clare. They went on to have two sons, Joe and Lewis.

In 1990 he became secretary of the Herdwick breed society, which was then in dire financial straights — a state of affairs he rectified working with chairman Gilbert Tyson. His work for the association also involved the organisation of the annual tup registrations, production of newsletters, publication of flock books and co-ordinating the organisation’s activities.

During the foot and mouth crisis of 2001 Geoff campaigned vigorously for the interests of farmers, contributing to a great many government consultations in the aftermath of the terrible events in Cumbria.

Through his association with Fells and Dales Leader+ he was able to give advice and support to a great many people and ensure the Herdwick breed was promoted wherever possible. Geoff also played a major role in the application for the Herdwick to gain protected designation of origin status and for the Lake District to become a world heritage site. His concern about the needs of rural communities resulted in Geoff moving to Scotland in 2008 to work for the Carnegie Trust, which works to improve the wellbeing of people across the UK and Ireland.

He wrote a seminal work on the Herdwick breed which was published in 2009, and in 2012 was president of the society.

HSBA secretary Amanda Carson said: “It was very fitting that at a celebration of the success of the Lake District world heritage site bid Lord Clarke of Windermere paid special tribute to Geoff, saying it was Geoff’s passionate speech about fell farming in 2005 that had re-energized the efforts to submit a bid.

“He was in touch with so many organisations and wrote volumes about farming as evidence to various committees and organisations. He was a lovely man — a great support to me when I took over from him as secretary — and held in such high regard by all who knew him.”

As addition to Herdwicks, Herdwick Sheep and the English Lake District, Geoff also wrote Sabotage, about industrial action and the trade union movement.

Geoff retired from the Carnegie Trust in 2011, and moved to Leeds in 2013. He was diagnosed with dementia two years later, and in 2017 moved to the Bedford Court care home, Horsforth.

He is survived by his brothers Stephen, West Midlands, and Richard, Northampton; first wife Sue, Bognor, and second wife Clare, Cockermouth; and sons Noah and Joe, both Leeds, and Lewis, West Cumbria.