David Fursdon: Landowners’ leader

When David Fursdon, President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), was given the choice between becoming a private secretary to a Government Minister or taking over his family’s 800-acre Devon estate, there was no contest. ‘I chose 750 years of family history,’ explains Mr Fursdon from his modest second-floor office in the CLA’s Belgravia headquarters which, like him, are smart and yet terribly practical.

‘I was just 29 when I took over Fursdon from my uncle,’ Fursdon also being the name of the family estate. ‘It was the ultimate farming dilemma,’ he reminisces. ‘The estate has some fantastically attractive countryside which, by its very nature, makes it inherently less profitable. The small and steep fields aren’t particularly suitable for arable farming.’ Before then, Mr Fursdon had spent a brief spell in the Army in the Far East, read geography at Oxford and worked for the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall and at the UN in Geneva.

He has been a member of the CLA since moving to Devon, rising rapidly through the ranks from Branch Chairman to Vice President, Deputy President and finally President. In addition to this, he has chaired the Wessex branch of the Historic Houses Association, been a member of the Government’s Affordable Rural Housing Commission and Heritage Protection Review. So it comes as no surprise to hear that he doesn’t have much time to participate in country sports. ‘I like to shoot, but, like in all things, the best country sportsmen are those who have time to practice. My main passion has been cricket.’ He played first-class cricket for Oxford.

Being on the cutting edge of rural issues, Mr Fursdon is quite clear about how he feels the countryside is changing. ‘We are in danger of surburbanising the countryside and making it too twee. That ‘tweeification’ is often being led by people who are trying to apply urban values to their little rural idyll. What this does is apply urban money to preserve the honeypot sites of the countryside, but fails to address how to deal with the large remainder.’

With the same clarity of thought, he is also able to reel off the top of his head what he considers to be some of the biggest issues facing the countryside today: ‘The biggest issues which keep me awake at night are the future profitability of agriculture, the nationalisation of land use, the economic sustainability of some rural communities, the provision of rural housing and the availability of water.’

However, he takes a moment to think before suggesting what farmers should be doing to combat these problems. ‘Land-owners are all very different and have completely different philosophies for why they own and manage land,’ he says after great consideration. ‘We should recognise that diversity of attitude because it leads to a diversity of landscape and rural activities. Diversity is, after all, what makes England interesting.’

This is just one of the messages the CLA will be trying to get across during the Game Fair at Broadlands in Hampshire this weekend. Mr Fursdon is also looking forward to a spot of shopping when he is able to snatch a free moment. ‘My wife has her eye on a pair of Dubarry boots, and I really want buy some more of the fabulous Cheddar cheese I tried in the food section last year. I just hope I can find it again. I’m definitely going to find time to watch the working dogs. I’m even tempted to take my labradoodles and try and pass them off as Afghan wolfhounds and see how many people notice.’

Where is your favourite place in Britain?

The College Valley, near Wooller, Northumberland

What is your favourite building in Britain?

NatWest Media Centre at Lord’s cricket ground

Who is your hero?

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn