WEST DORSET: Residents turned out in force to support the launch of a £1million appeal for a wildlife-friendly farm in Dorset.

The Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) has launched the appeal in memory of the late Gordon Beningfield, a Thomas Hardy expert, conservationist and artist who loved Dorset.

The Gordon Beningfield Appeal is hoping to buy a farm in the Dorchester area, which it will restore to a wildlife-rich country farm.

The CRT is a charity that was established by Robin Page, Gordon Beningfield, Sir Lau-rens van der Post and friends 21 years ago in response to growing fears about the loss of wildlife caused by intensive and industrialised farming.

Robin Page, chairman of the trust, said: “I am delighted that we are finally in a position to fundraise for a farm in Dorset.

“Gordon was my closest friend, and he and I visited Dorset together many times.

“It’s a brilliant turnout, I’m very pleased, it gives me a lot of hope after three years we can do something with nice Dorset people on side and we hope we can achieve what we set out for.

“We launched the appeal many years ago after Gordon’s death in 1998 before we really knew what we were doing.

“We’re having a second bite at it now and, fingers crossed, we hope we will get it done.”

The CRT has said Dorset’s central location on the south coast and its warm climate, without the exposure to ext-reme weather found in counties further west, give the area a wide variety and abundance of wildlife.

In order to raise the money to fund the project, the charity is applying for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

However, it will need to raise a further £1million over the next two years.

Robin said: “The area is beautiful and I hope people will help us raise enough money to help us buy or receive a suitable farm.

“If anybody knows of a likely farm that may become available, please let us know.”

The trust is particularly hoping to acquire a farm in ‘Hardy Country’ because of Gordon’s love of all things Thomas Hardy.

Robin said: “We’re looking for anything between 200 and 500 acres.

“If you can see it from the top of Maiden Castle, we will want it.

“If the farm that we get is one that has been intensively farmed, we will make it less intensive and get the wildlife back.

“If it is a wildlife-rich farm and we get it, we will ensure that big farming companies don’t move in and trash it.

“We will make sure that it is kept as it should be while producing food and we will want the Dorset people and Dorset schools to come and appreciate it.”

Betty Beningfield, Gordon’s widow, also attended the launch.