‘Terrified’ farmer fears for ‘tragic loss’ of Bristol’s last city farm
Plans are afoot to turn part of the city farm into a crematorium
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Bristol’s last city farm says it is facing closure - over plans to turn it into a graveyard. Catherine Withers, 53, of Yew Tree Farm in Bedminster Down, says the plans will mean the farm will have to close for good.
Her family have been farming in the area for 500 years dating back to Henry VIII and have worked Yew Tree Farm since the 1960s. It is one of the last working city farms in England and has already have won a battle to stop plans to build homes there.
But now Bristol City Council is considering a planning application to expand the nearby South Bristol Crematorium into three fields. If approved on Wednesday the changes will remove 20 of the 48 acres of land Catherine farms.
The council says that half of the eight burial sites around the city are full so are proposing the crematorium graveyard be expanded.
Catherine says she is ‘devastated’ by the plans as she fears it will result in the complete loss of Bristol’s family farming tradition. She said: “I am absolutely desperate to be listened to in these decisions. I’ve never been so terrified.
“I’m devastated for the farm, devastated for the future, devastated for the animals and devasted for the wildlife. We are providing chemical free, great quality food and a really rare habitat to the local community.
“If the plans go through we can’t carry on. There’s no guarantee we’ll be allowed to use the land and there will be no future for the farm. I understand that burial spaces are needed but there are other areas that are viable.
“They wouldn’t go and dig up other Bristol landmarks like Cabot Tower or the Suspension Bridge but the farm has been here for even longer than them. The council are treating the farm like it’s nothing and it has no value at all. It’s over 500 years old and it’s erasure would be a tragic loss.”
The land the crematorium is expanding into is owned by Bristol City Council, and currently forms part of Yew Tree Farm.
Catherine’s family have farmed the 60 acres in south Bristol since 1967 but own just 28 acres themselves. Prior to 2021, they rented the three fields closest to the crematorium from a neighbour who let the land from the council.
When the council ended the letting agreement with their neighbour in 2021, they allowed Yew Tree Farm to continue to farm the land. Catherine feels as though she has been “trampled on” by the planning committee and their “erasure” of her family’s history on the land.
She said: “I’m not even listed as a stakeholder in the process. The suggestion we have only been using the land since 2021 is not try. They’re literally trampling over me and the farm and have given us no respect whatsoever.
“It doesn’t feel right on any level. It hurts my heart to not have been consulted on the decision at all.”
What Bristol City Council says
A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said: “Yew Tree Farm does not have a tenancy for this Bristol City Council owned land but has had a temporary informal arrangement to use it.
‘’The site has been allocated as the future expansion space of South Bristol Cemetery since the 1960s. The temporary arrangement is one that Yew Tree Farm acknowledged and accepted.
“Council cemeteries, including South Bristol Cemetery, are nearing capacity. South Bristol cemetery has space to expand into because of this long-sighted approach. Officers have been in touch with the farm over a number of years about the site, and have always been clear about its future use.’’