As well as being director of the Bulmer
Foundation, I am also an associate agricultural chaplain
in Hereford diocese, working ecumenically as part of the
The foundation is about helping Herefordshire to become
more sustainable - meaning that economic, social,
environmental, and, increasingly, spiritual aspects are taken into
consideration. Practically, for farming it's about valuing the
people, land, and animals, and ensuring that we produce food,
taking all these into account in a balanced way.
It is is wider than just land use. The
foundation runs projects on health and well-being, and education.
We deliver a Master's degree course in partnership with Worcester
University - alcohol awareness, and so on. It also works with
policy-makers. We recently helped to write the first countywide
sustainable-food strategy in England; and we're also helping to
Although the foundation is not a religious
charity, the work certainly has a spiritual dimension, and
my trustees are supportive of my role as a priest. I was a
full-time agricultural chaplain until two years ago when, after 13
years, I needed a new challenge. My vocation has never been to
parish ministry, and I had worked alongside the foundation before;
so I was interested when the job was advertised. I'm very involved
pastorally with the Farming Community Network.
Sustainability is about understanding the relationships
between people, the environment, and the economy.
The Church sometimes misses a trick, not
working more with secular organisations. We're part of the
Transition Town movement - in fact, we host the Herefordshire
Transitional Alliance; so we get together on a monthly basis to
swap notes and support each other.
It's not easy persuading people to change.
These groups have a spiritual dimension, and you can either feel
threatened by them, or take your Christianity into them. They could
have the same view of us as we of them, but engaging in a dialogue
- "Actually, there's something about that in the Old Testament,"
and so on - makes them think: "Well, perhaps the Established Church
has got some resources and insights that we've missed." We don't
lose our Christian ethos, we bring it to the table.
There is no typical day. I combine running the
charity with leading specifically on any projects in land-use that
we are running. At the moment we are focused on delivering a
phosphate-reduction programme for the rivers Wye and Lugg.
I have a degree in Agricultural Science, and a
post-graduate degree in Forestry. After a time in research, I
worked for the National Farmers' Union for 11 years, and I was
or-dained during this period.
I chaired a national working-party on farm stress and
suicide, which led to the establishment of the Rural
Stress Information Network, a farming-support charity, which I ran
for four years, before becoming a stipendiary agricultural chaplain
with Hereford diocese. I've never really worked outside the farming
The immediate issues for farmers arise from the worst
harvest and spring for many years. It has hit cash-flow
hard. Farmers tend to be asset-rich and cash-poor - if they own
their land. There are major problems with bovine tuberculosis and
the onset of other animal-health issues, such as Schmallenberg,
which is a viral disease of sheep causing abortion and loss of
condition. There are a lot of diseases creeping across Europe, as
the climate changes. We are getting more exotic diseases,
Locally, we have many elderly farmers who ought to
retire but don't know how. We desperately need a funded
retirement for farmers, helping them leave with dignity, and
creating opportunities to attract new blood in an industry that's
almost impossible to enter without huge capital and ownership of
The Church is a major landowner. It could be a
leader in pioneering sustainable food production, combining
conventional farming with things like community-supported
agriculture. Glebe committees and the Church Commissioners often
seem to hide behind their "duty" to maximise economic returns
rather than seeing the bigger picture.
The blunt fact is that most people buy food on price
first - although there are various initiatives to help
people make ethical choices, such as the Red Tractor mark, Freedom
Foods, and so on.
I accept compromise. I run a
sustainable-development charity. I live in "typical" housing for
rural Herefordshire (a Victorian semi-detached with solid walls and
no insulation); so we wear jumpers and use the wood burner as much
as possible in the winter. I have to use a car: public transport
wouldn't get me to work on time, let alone the other meetings I
need to go to; and my wife is a parish priest; so she has to run a
car as well. We counter that with trying to grow as much of our own
food as possible, and promoting local supply chains.
Our three children - two sons and a daughter - are at,
or just completing, university. We're entering the phase
where they are beginning to flee the nest, except financially of
course - that never seems to happen.
As a child, I wanted to work in the tropics.
I've always been interested in applied biology, and in history. I
was interested in the British Empire, and had a grandfather who was
in the Navy and a Japanese prisoner-of-war. I did go to India with
USPG, working on a forestry project. I've been to Tanzania a couple
of times with a linked forestry programme, and I'm currently a
trustee of a project in Uganda.
My most significant choices were getting married,
naturally, and changing from self-supporting to
stipendiary priesthood. The latter has been my biggest regret over
time. My experience was that, although the Church accepted me as a
priest, over 13 years it turned me into an employee and completely
botched the process. It left some scars.
I was last made angry because of a colleague of mine who
is entering the Church's employment, and is being mucked
around in ways that no secular employer would ever be allowed to
get away with.
I'd like to be remembered for caring for
people, and being approachable.
Michael Forest influenced me a great deal. He
was our parish priest when we lived in London. We became very close
friends, and he's been an important part of my journey. It was
learning the ropes of priesthood: I did a placement with him later,
and I used to play squash with him. He gave me insights into the
pressures of being a member of the clergy.
My wife did a "parish swap" with a priest from the
Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, and it's somewhere I'd
love to go back to. Other- wise, Herefordshire takes some
Favourite and least favourite bits of the
Bible? Isaiah, on both counts. It's got glorious bits that
resonate with rural life and the gospel, and bits that don't seem
to make any sense at all, and leave me thinking, "What was all that
My sons and I are into folk music, and a
melodeon being played well always gets a smile. And I'm happiest
when I'm dancing with a Border morris side called the Shropshire
Bedlams, with my two sons. I've always fought to keep a Tuesday
evening free for that.
I pray for greater understanding of what God is
about, and the sense to see where and how the Church fits
in to what he is doing.
I'd like to be locked in a church with St Paul.
I'd like to ask him whether he wrote all the letters that are
attributed to him (which I doubt), and therefore what he really
feels about women, slavery, and the Church's radical agenda.
The Revd Nicholas Read was talking to Terence Handley