Farming pioneer and renowned photographer Mike Trendell dies aged 95

Photographer Mike Trendell was awarded the fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2011

Influential Ministry of Agriculture adviser Mike Trendell, pictured after being awarded the fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2011, has died at the age of 95. - Credit: Antony Kelly

An influential Ministry of Agriculture adviser who pioneered an environmentally-friendly farming scheme in the Norfolk Broads has died peacefully at his Norwich home aged 95.

Mike Trendell was one of the behind-the-scenes architects of a radical new green policy at the height of the Halvergate marshes controversy in the 1980s, when farmers and environmental campaigners were at loggerheads over land drainage and intensive farming practices.

He was part of a small team at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Thorpe Road offices in Norwich who developed a scheme paying farmers £50 an acre to stop ploughing up 11,000 acres of grazing marshes. 

The Broads Grazing Marshes Conservation Scheme, which received Treasury blessing and £1.7m in funding, became a reality from January 1985.

It became the eventual pilot for the country’s much-enlarged ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Areas) schemes, thanks to the efforts of Mr Trendell and colleagues including Peter Grimble. 

The Broads Authority, the Countryside Commission, the Department of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, were involved in policy formulation as well as the National Farmers’ Union and other environmental groups.

But on the ground, it took many hours of patient “kitchen table diplomacy” by the ministry’s team to win farmers’ grudging support to protect the environment and defuse a growing controversy. 

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Born on October 11, 1925, in Poringland, Eric Michael Trendell was the oldest of the rector’s two children. After boarding school, he went to the Midland Agricultural College, Sutton Bonington, Nottingham – and there met his wife-to-be, Betty. They married in 1952. 

He joined the Ministry of Agriculture’s NAAS (National Agricultural Advisory Service) at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, before promotion to Tavistock, Devon, in 1964 as a senior livestock adviser. 

In September 1968, he returned to Norfolk as deputy county adviser, where he helped dozens of farmers with grant applications and improvement schemes. He was a regular contributor to the EDP’s Farm and Country pages over many years. 

When he retired aged 60 from the ministry’s ADAS (Agricultural Development Advisory Service), he maintained his connections with the industry and the countryside, supporting Norfolk Farm Education Link.

Mike Trendell with schoolchildren visiting the farm at Billockby Hall, near Acle in 1992

Mike Trendell with schoolchildren visiting the farm at Billockby Hall, near Acle in 1992 - Credit: Archant

For several years in the 1990s, he was a NFEL volunteer as visiting schoolchildren were shown around the Alston’s farm at Billockby Hall, near Acle.

He was a former chairman of Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and even donated a signed print in 2005 of his photographic montage of Norwich City’s key architectural features at a fund-raising event.

Always keener on the outdoors than the office, he enjoyed sailing and was a keen photographer having started as a young man with a Kodak Box Brownie in the late 1930s – an enthusiasm shared by his father.

He was a stalwart of the Norwich and District Photographic Society for almost half a century and was elected chairman in 1979 and then again in 2001. He served a two-year term as president from 1984.

Norwich - A Fine City: A photographic montage by Mike Trendell FRPS

Norwich - A Fine City: A photographic montage by Mike Trendell FRPS - Credit: Mike Trendell FRPS

In addition, he organised the Society’s annual exhibition at Norwich Cathedral for many years before it was staged in the Hostry. 

In 2019, he was made an honorary member and at the 103rd annual exhibition, the last before Covid-19, there was a special display of his photographs.  

He became an associate of the Royal Photographic Society with his selection of images from his 200-mile Coast to Coast walk from St Bees Head to Robin Hood’s Bay.

In 2011, he gained a further honour from the society, when he was awarded a fellowship for his portfolio of English parish church architecture taken over two years. 

He organised other photographic exhibitions including his last featuring many of Norfolk’s medieval places of worship at Christ Church, Eaton, in 2019. 

His wife, Betty, died in December, ending a partnership spanning 75 years. Their youngest son, David, who was a highly-regarded musician and teacher, died aged 50 in October 2014. 

He leaves two children, Charlotte and Jonathan, grandchildren and great-grand children. A family funeral will be held. 

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