North Dorset farmer Sheila Clarke, who has died in hospital aged 82, was one of the best-known farmers in the region, a passionate campaigner for the preservation of Britain’s native breeds of livestock, cattle, pigs and horses, and a supporter of country sports.
For years she and her husband Ron ran the Dorset Rare Breed Centre at Park Farm on the Shaftesbury road out of Gillingham (Dorset). She had been involved over the years with market gardening as well as farming and was friends with horticulturalist Richard Cumming. With his artist wife Sue, he ran Milton Garden Plants, a nursery and country garden centre at Milton-on-Stour.
“Sheila and I were both fond of roses and as I was the agent for one of the world’s leading rose breeders,” says Richard. “Sheila and Ron had their farm-meat freezer shop.
“Both our businesses were small and needed to grow so in 2002 we made a plan to create a new business on land at Park Farm and so Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd was born and a trading name, Orchard Park, adopted. As business partners, the four of us, Sheila and Ron, Sue and myself, invested in the project and made it happen. Sheila, with her eye for the future, was always supportive and keen to see things happen.
“Sheila had friends in so many places; one of them was David Howard who at the time was head gardener to Prince Charles at Highgrove. David came down to Orchard Park and ‘cut the ribbon’ the following April, on St George’s Day. Then the new Lagan Farm Shop opened, much to Sheila’s joy, in September 2006 and is the principal outlet for the meat from her and Ron’s traditional beef herds of British Whites, Irish Moil and Red Poll. Sheila put so much energy/dedication into the task of saving and improving these breeds.”