We are sad to report that our vice-president, Peter Melchett, has died aged only 70. Peter was our president from 1981 to 1984 and then served on our executive committee (as our board of trustees was known) from 1985 to 1987.
When Peter’s father, Julian Mond, died in 1973, Peter became a member of the House of Lords as the fourth Lord Melchett. The Ramblers got to know Peter during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in 1980 and 81; Peter was opposition spokesman for the environment in the Lords and moved countless amendments relating to public paths and sites of special scientific interest. He had some crucial victories, such as stopping the government from changing the law to give local authorities, rather than the independent Secretary of State, the power to confirm opposed path-orders. Essentially a rebel, he subsequently abandoned his seat in the Lords.
Peter backed the alternative opening event for the Wolds Way long-distance path in East Yorkshire in October 1982. To appease the Country Landowners’ Association president Lord Middleton, the Countyside Commission had routed the path away from the lovely deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy, which he owned. The Ramblers protested, with our own opening held simultaneously with the official one, a few miles away.
Peter loved his family farm at Ringstead in North Norfolk and he practised what he preached, farming organically and welcoming the public. In 1982 he created more than five miles of public rights of way, linked with existing routes to provide three circular walks with fine views of the sea.
He was a founder of Wildlife Link (now Wildlife and Countryside Link) and chairman and executive director of Greenpeace (1986 to 2001). He was arrested for damaging genetically-modified crops in Norfolk in 1999 but was acquitted, a great triumph. He became policy director at the Soil Association in 2002, a post he held until he died.
We will miss him greatly — and no more than now, when his wise advice on the forthcoming Agriculture Bill would have been invaluable.
Kate Ashbrook, Ramblers chair