Kenneth Watkins OBE (1909-1996)
Born in Bromley, Kent, Ken Educated in London, and took his first job with Murrays, a London-based tobacco company.
In the early 1930s he took an agricultural apprenticeship on Exmoor, after which he and his brother Leon farmed at Higher Holsom in Diptford.
During the 1930s, Ken and Leon became agents for second-hand tractors and later teamed up with another agent – a Mr. Roseveare – to form Watkins & Roseveare.
Unable to serve in the armed forces because of asthma, Ken spent the Second World War working for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as a farm adviser, while keeping the farm machinery business going.
After the war, Ken and Leon added European farm machinery to their other businesses, which included Watkins’ Tractors and Watkins’ Garage (later becoming Ivybridge Motors).
In his heyday, as a lover of fast cars, he took part in motor racing events during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, including Formula 500 with a Cooper-Norton, and the Daily Mail international race meeting at Silverstone with an Allard Chrysler J2X.
In 1950s, he won the 100-Mile Commander Yorke Trophy, driving a Cooper Mk IV.
Ken married Mary Clayton in Harford church during a howling gale in 1959.
In the early 1960s, Ken joined the Devon Naturalists’ Trust (now the Devon Wildlife Trust),
eventually becoming chairman of its management committee and in 1971 was awarded an MBE for his work with the Devon Trust for Nature Conservation Ltd.
Ken retired from the engineering companies in 1972, by which time Western Machinery had become one of the largest agricultural equipment importers in the country. By this time both he and Leon owned farms at Harford.
He founded the Woodland Trust that year together with his wife, friends and co-founders, Oliver Rossetti, well-known Devon naturalist Henry Hurrell MBE and Stanley Edgcumbe, they began work to address the plundering that our woods had suffered during the last century. They purchased one of the first woods within the Avon Valley complex.
Within five years, Kenneth and his small team had acquired more than 22 woods in six different counties in south west England. Soon after, the Trust announced its ambitious aim to protect woodland throughout the UK and appointed its first full-time employee.
By 1979, the Trust had moved from just being a Devon-based charity, to a nation-wide one, and has planted more than 41 million trees so far.
Ken and Mary even had a pet badger named Meles which they allowed to wander around both floors of Butterbrook, their beloved home.
This former rectory was named after the brook running through its 50 acres of land and remained the only address for the Woodland Trust until as late as 1981 when we opened their Grantham head office in Westgate.
From there they took the former Coles Cranes offices on Dysart Road, before moving into purpose-built premises in 2010, across the road, employing 300 people.
Ken was awarded the OBE in 1989 for his services to conservation and in 1995 the British Naturalists’ Association honoured him with the Sir Peter Scott Memorial Award.
He died on 13 November 1996 in Harford following a short illness.
His ashes are scattered in King’s Wood – his favourite sitting place – close to Butterbrook.