In Memory of Joe Henson

  • Joe Henson

We celebrate the contributions of Cotswold Farm Park founder Joe Henson, who dedicated his life’s work to preserving rare breeds and educating the British public about farming.

In recent years, Cotswold Homes has regularly featured Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park and commentary on farming matters from Adam. We would like to pay tribute to the life and work of its founder Joe Henson (Adam’s father), who died in 2015 at the age of 82.

Joe was born in Chelsea in 1932 to a creative, theatrical family. His parents were actors (his father, Leslie, was the co-founder of ENSA, the armed forces’ Entertainments National Service Association) and while Joe’s brother Nicky followed their interests, Joe turned his talents to farming after spending school holidays assisting at a farm in Northwood, Middlesex where he encountered the animals that would shape his future endeavours as a conservationist.

At the age of 19, Joe attended the Cirencester Agricultural College (since renamed the Royal Agricultural University). In 1962, Joe and his old school friend John Neave assumed the tenancy of Gloucestershire’s 400-acre Bemborough Farm, which has now expanded to 1600 acres. Farming was undergoing big changes, and certain breeds of farm animal began to diminish as producers favoured livestock that could be farmed more intensively.

Encouraged by his love for older-fashioned breeds, and his daughter Libby’s enthusiasm for livestock, Joe began to collect breeds threatened by the farming revolution, starting with a small flock of pedigree Cotswold Sheep, two Gloucester cows and two Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs. When the opportunity arose to take over much of Lord Zuckerman’s ‘gene bank’ of rare breeds from Whipsnade Zoo in 1970, Joe needed to finance the collection. He soon struck upon the idea of presenting them to the public as an attraction and in 1971 the Cotswold Farm Park opened to visitors.

Two years later the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was formed, with Joe as founder Chairman. At the time of the Trust’s intervention, some of the breeds were perilously close to vanishing altogether. Thanks to the work of Joe and his colleagues such animals have endured to the present day and can still be admired at the Cotswold Farm Park. It is down to the Trust’s influence that not a single breed of British farm animal has become extinct since 1973.

When conservation became the new buzzword the Farm Park received a lot of publicity, and Joe was invited to appear on Animal Magic with Johnny Morris. This led to more television appearances, with Joe becoming known to millions presenting farming programmes on the BBC along with household names such as Angela Ripon and Phil Drabble. When Adam became a presenter for BBC Countryfile, Joe often appeared alongside him, sharing his knowledge and wisdom.

Joe was also keen to share his wealth of experience and his passion with the team at the Farm Park. Such knowledge has made the Farm Park instrumental in educating the public not only about the importance of conserving rare breeds, but of sustainable farming practices in general.

In 2011 Joe received an MBE at Windsor Castle for services to rare breed conservation, not least in recognising the importance of genetic diversity in livestock. The Cotswold Farm Park continues to be a thriving visitor attraction today, run by Adam and his business partner Duncan Andrews. The Cotswold Farm Park is dedicated to delivering the best of British farming through sustainable methods.

Find out more about Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park, its work and history at www.cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk