Living in the moment – photographer captures remarkable scenes from Suffolk farms
PUBLISHED: 04:00 07 June 2020 | UPDATED: 08:04 09 June 2020
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Up until recently, farmer Peter West, aged 90, was still checking on the family’s Waveney Valley beef cattle herd every day.
Now that duty has passed to grand-daughter Jessica, but Peter still takes an active interest in the farm business he grew up in, seeing what his youngest son, Andrew, 58, who now manages it, is up to.
Peter is thought to be Suffolk’s oldest active farmer, and was photographed by Warren Page for a series of 20 striking farming images.
“As soon as I got to 90 I gave up doing the cattle, going around them every day,” he says. Now he restricts his activities to gardening – he’s growing leeks – and trips around the farm. “I let them get on with it,” he says.
The photo collection was commissioned to celebrate the county’s farming roots as the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Peter’s image was captured at Warren Hill Farms in the village of Oakley, which lies between Diss and Eye. The family has 2,500 acres by the Rivers Waveney and Dove, straddling the border between Suffolk and Norfolk. They keep 25 pedigree longhorn cows and grow wheat, rape, barley – and chamomile destined for the Starke family’s large perfume distillery in Eye.
“I don’t know whether I’m Norfolk or Suffolk – I’m a Waveney Valley man,” says Peter.
The veteran farmer’s NFU roots run deep. His paternal grandfather was Charles West, the first chairman of Diss NFU, while Charles’ neighbour and Peter’s maternal grandfather was George Flowerdew, who was Eye branch secretary for a remarkable 25 years. Both died in the 1940s, the era in which Peter joined the family farm straight from school.
“I couldn’t get into college, because it was the end of the war and ex-servicemen got priority,” he explains. By that point, the family farm was into its third generation, with Peter working alongside his father and grandfather.
He’s been married to Sylvia for 68 years, living in the big farmhouse for 65 of them before moving out to a cottage on the farm. He has four children, and their children in turn have produced three great grandchildren to date.
Peter represented Suffolk and Norfolk NFU in various roles, sitting on the Ipswich sugar beet committee, chairing Norfolk NFU, and heading on trips to Brussels to represent UK farmers there.
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His story is just one encapsulated in Warren Page’s remarkable collection, which is intended to provide a unique photographic record of agriculture in the county today.
The aim is to reflect Suffolk agriculture as it is in 2020, featuring different farming sectors and farm diversifications and with a strong focus on the people who work within the food and farming industry.
County adviser Charles Hesketh and regional communications adviser Brian Finnerty worked with Warren, NFU group secretaries and members to capture the images.
It wasn’t easy. As Warren explains, having found the perfect backdrop, containing Suffolk landmarks such as Framlingham Castle, Bury St Edmunds’ sugar beet factory or the Orwell Bridge, he then had to liaise with farmers and return – sometimes months later to capture the perfect image of harvest or ploughing or other farm activities as they came into frame.
Warren admits this could be nail-biting and that at times he was afraid of missing his perfect shot as he dropped everything to get there in time. It grew into something of an obsession. It was real photojournalism, he says, and could come about haphazardly.
He faced inquisitive cows brushing up against him, delays due to waterlogged fields – and the coronavirus outbreak which brought attempts to capture lambing to an abrupt halt.
“It’s been a busy old time,” he admits. “It was such a wide brief. That was the big thing – it was quite daunting in that we live in a county that’s predominantly farmland.”
He wanted to extend a big ‘thank you’ to all the people who helped him. “A lot of farmers went out of their way to help to put this together,” he says.
NFU Suffolk county chairman Glenn Buckingham says the centenary is “a wonderful opportunity” to reflect on everything that farmers have achieved over the past 100 years but it isn’t all about our history.
“We also want to celebrate Suffolk agriculture as it is today – and these 20 striking images will provide a lasting legacy of food and farming in our centenary year.”
The exhibition was due to be unveiled at Suffolk Show 2020 but the photos are being put online instead so they can still be enjoyed despite the show’s cancellation.
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