Sir Simon Gourlay obituary | Environment

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In 1958, my father-in-law, Simon Gourlay, who has died aged 85, bought 200 acres of pasture and started farming near Knighton, on the English-Welsh border. He converted the dilapidated house and surrounding farmland into a warm family home and later developed the five-acre garden, which was subsequently opened to the public for the National Garden Scheme.

In the late 1970s, he joined the National Farmers’ Union as a delegate and he rose to become NFU president in 1986. During his five-year term of office, he was a moderniser and actively promoted women in farming. He was knighted in 1989 for services to farming.

Minette Batters, the current NFU president, described how he handled national food and farming crises matters in a calm and effective manner. With David Evans, the director general, he “laid the foundation for the current strength” of the NFU by promoting its conversion into a single national body of farmers for England and Wales.

A man ahead of his time, Simon was insightful, thoughtful and considered about all things, personal and public. An environmentalist, he passionately wanted the UK to remain in the EU; he was internationalist, antiwar and an advocate for alternative energy.

His long struggle to make the case for wind turbines on his land was ultimately unsuccessful, owing to David Cameron’s reversal of his initial pledge for his government to become the “greenest ever”, yet Simon was exhilarated by the current environmental movement, including Extinction Rebellion, and by hearing young people raising the alarm about the climate crisis.

He marched with his family in London in 2002 against the plans for military action in Iraq. Using his walking stick for support, he marched again last year for a second referendum on Brexit.

Simon wasi born in Bristol, to Helga (nee Wilson), a market gardener specialising in daffodils, and David Gourlay, an army officer. He went to Winchester college, which was followed by two years’ national service. After that, Simon attended Cirencester Agricultural College (now the Royal Agricultural University), but left after six weeks, having come to the conclusion he would learn more by applying himself to practical application on a farm.

He is survived by his second wife, Caroline (nee Clegg), whom he met in 1966 and married the following year, and their sons, Alastair, David (Zeb) and Justin; his son, Giles, from his first marriage, to Sally Garman, which ended in divorce; and seven grandchildren.

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