WARM tributes are being paid to a pioneering Gloucestershire farmer, conservationist and broadcaster. 

Eric Freeman from Taynton near Newent has died aged 91.

He was famous for rearing Gloucester cattle, one of the UK’s oldest and rarest livestock breeds, and he helped save them from extinction when the last surviving herd went up for auction at Arlingham in 1972.

A founder of the British rare breeds movement, Mr Freeman was also a renowned and respected breeder of Cotswold sheep and Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs as well as heavy horses, poultry and waterfowl.

Speaking in 2015, Mr Freeman explained his passion for livestock farming: “As a Gloucestershire man, I was always interested in the local breeds and proud that our own sheep, cattle and pig varieties had survived. There aren’t many counties that can boast of having all three.”  

Mr Freeman’s son, Clifford, now breeds Eric’s Noent herd of Gloucesters and led the tributes: “He was known nationally as a much-admired countryman and rare breeds farmer but to us he was first and foremost a family man - a wonderful brother to his two siblings, an inspirational father, a devoted grandfather and a proud great-grandfather.” 

Cotswold farmer and BBC Countryfile presenter, Adam Henson, is a family friend and had known Eric for more than 50 years:

He said: “He was always a warm, welcoming personality with a big heart and a ready smile. Not to mention the most impressive beard in Gloucestershire!

"His knowledge of England’s rural heritage was immense, and he could hold court on everything from horse-ploughing to cider-making. I will miss him enormously and the entire rare breeds movement has lost its most charming and charismatic champion.” 

Eric Freeman was born in Newent in 1932 and educated at Picklenash School and Newent Grammar School before working for many years in the family poultry business.

In addition to rare breeds, the life-long member of Newent Young Farmers Club and staunch supporter of the Royal Three Counties Show was also responsible for reviving traditions such as Wassail and Harvest Home, and promoting local varieties of apples and pears.

In 2013 King Charles III presented him with a lifetime achievement award for his conservation work

His first broadcast was on BBC Radio Gloucestershire in 1988 and he went on to appear hundreds of times on the weekly Country Matters programme, eventually having his own series Freeman of the Farm.

BBC Radio 4 featured him over many years on Farming Today, The Food Programme and On Your Farm. His TV appearances included the BBC cookery series Two Fat Ladies with Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson, and Hugh & Oz Drink to Christmas with Hugh Dennis and Oz Clarke.

He was also the subject of two local history films which raised hundreds of pounds for local charities from DVD sales and in 2010 he published a book of rural reminiscences titled Thumbsticks and Frails.  

Eric Freeman’s funeral will take place at St Mary’s Church in Newent at 11.30am on Thursday 16th November.