Farmer, Martin Yarworth’s 10 year protest

Having survived the coldest winter for 30 years, 60 year old, sheep farmer, Martin Yarworth said he will not put a stop to his protest. Now that it's Spring-time, and his sheep have lambed, he said, 'I still own these few sheep and they are my life now. Their line goes back to sheep kept generations ago by my family. They're related to the sheep I helped look after with my father when I was a boy, and on this same land. I would then run to school, and was frequently late! During the lambing season there's much to do with the ewes needing care until the end of April. These sheep bind me to this land; they are part of my reason for being here still. I love this time of the year and always have, but besides all this, I feel it's my spiritual duty to remain here on my family land, and I will not leave.' Martin told me that if he couldn't have his rightful family home, nobody would move him from 'this little bit of land I have left'. He continued to tell me his version of events that lead to his circumstances. 'My reason for living seemed to be wiped out when I was forced to leave the family home. My family had farmed there for over 100 years.'

Martin Yarworth's one time family home, Underhill Farm, near Newnham-on-Severn in Gloucestershire, was repossessed in 2001 when he was told that he'd failed to pay a loan secured against it - a loan he insists he did not take out and knew nothing about. Martin went on to say that his brother had forged his signature and sold the home without his knowledge, and then one day he found that his brother had taken his belongings and left the home, 'He just disappeared.' A building society then succeeded in taking possession of the farm, later to be purchased by someone else and leading to his homelessness. There was then a short time rooftop protest on the farmhouse roof, followed by his setting up home in a horse box on a piece of family land known as, Joins Meadow. A judge had previously ruled that Mr. Yarworth's brother, or someone acting on his behalf, had indeed forged his (Martin's) signature to set up the re-mortgaging of the family farm. Martin knew nothing of his brother's scheming, which was taking place while both brothers were continuing to work the family farm, just as they had done since their parents had died. Consequently, Martin refused to pay the loan, which he couldn't afford anyway. His brother seemingly succeeding with his dishonesty, as nothing was able to be proved either way.

While continuing his protest living rough in Joins Meadow across from his former home, Martin found himself in trouble with Forest of Dean District Council, They said he was living in the field at Joins Meadow in Newnham - next to his former farm - without permission, and was breaking planning regulations. Several times he was issued with court injunctions. He attended court and was told he must leave his makeshift home, but he continued to flout all court orders to leave. Martin called for a public inquiry into his plight. Subsequently, he expected to be sent to prison by the judge after failing to comply with the eviction notice, putting himself in contempt of court. During the hearing, Martin's defence barrister, Myles Watkins went on to say, "All he wants to do is live on the land his family have farmed for generations." Judge Michael Harington said that in what was a "long-running and sad case," he would not put Yarworth behind bars and ordered him to pay a fine of £200, with costs of £400.

Though Martin admitted that his legal battle to regain possession of the nearby farm he once called home is now at an end, he always said that giving up his protest would be like admitting he was wrong in the first place. "I was wrongly robbed of my home and livelihood. I will never leave my little piece of my family's farm, which is all I now have left. I played in these fields as a child, and also grew up helping my parents here. With all I've now been through I will never leave. I will draw my last breath here".
While I was photographing Martin, he said to me, 'I won't be rearing any sheep again after this season. It's too much work, and too upsetting'. These words proved to be prophetic as these lambs were indeed the last he reared on his family's land. Martin died the following year, December 30th 2011, of cancer in Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. His protest had lasted 10 years. He was 61.