Environmental campaigner Lord Peter Melchett dies, aged 71

image copyrightSoil Association
image captionLord Peter Melchett was most recently policy director at the Soil Association

The long-term environmental campaigner and organic farmer Lord Peter Melchett has died, aged 71.

Lord Melchett, who lived in Ringstead, Norfolk, had been executive director of Greenpeace UK and most recently policy director of the Soil Association.

In 1999, he was cleared of criminal damage after being accused of ripping up a GM maize crop in Lyng.

Friend Elizabeth Buchannan said he was "an establishment figure who became a radical campaigner".

Peter Mond, fourth Baron Melchett, went from Eton to Cambridge University, where he read law.

Illness prevented him taking his finals but he later took an MA in criminology at the University of Keele, followed by 18 months at the London School of Economics.

Lord Melchett inherited his title aged 25, following the early death of his father.

He became a Labour Party Whip, a junior minister at the Department of the Environment and a minister of state for Northern Ireland under Jim Callaghan.

He became executive director of Greenpeace UK in 1989 and in 1999, he and 27 fellow activists faced criminal damage charges after ripping up genetically modified crops but were acquitted when the jury accepted their defence that they believed the crop would have polluted the environment.

image copyrightPA
image captionLord Melchett, then Greenpeace executive director, was arrested as one of the environmental protesters who attacked a field of genetically modified crops at Lyng
image copyrightPA
image captionLord Melchett was acquitted of criminal damage after the GM protest in 1999

In 1985, he tried to cut through the perimeter wire of an American air base at Sculthorpe in East Anglia as part of an anti-nuclear protest.

Speaking to Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs in 2000 he said you had to have the public with you to bring about change.

"You only win a campaign if people support you and people will only support you if you're right - if what you're saying is correct or if what you predict turns out to be the case," he said.

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Executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, said he would be "sorely missed by everyone who loved wildlife and wanted to protect the global environment".

"In Peter's 12 years campaigning at Greenpeace he was both fearless in taking on big corporations like BP and Monsanto but also pioneering in supporting solutions like Greenfreeze refrigeration to save the ozone layer.

"We all live a little bit more peacefully with the earth and its animals as a result of his efforts. A true radical and campaigner to the end."

Helen Browning, chief executive officer of the Soil Association, where Lord Melchett had been for 18 years, said the organisation was "so saddened" by his death.

"[He] was such an important, charismatic figure in the environment and organic movement throughout his lifetime," she said.

Ms Buchannan, a non-executive board member at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "He was an extraordinary person but he had such credibility because he was actually farming himself in Norfolk so he wasn't' just pontificating, he was doing and he was proving how you can farm in a different way.

"He held these views and did these things while at all times being a true gentleman... gentle and kind while also being brave and passionate.

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