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Meet Our Trustees

Bill Makins - Our Founder (1932-2022)

Bill Makins was a visionary conservationist. Alongside farming his Norfolk property, Pensthorpe, he created a truly sustainable gravel extraction process creating one of the most bio-diverse nature reserves in England. Bill was interested in wildfowl and rare species since childhood. In the 1960s he spent time in Kenya learning about stockmanship of both birds and mammals. His passion took him the world over. Each destination brought new discoveries as well as rewards. Pygmy Geese and other rare ducks and geese from North America, Chile and Iceland arrived and thrived. Bill spent his life devoting his experience and enthusiasm to actively promoting the conservation of endangered birds. 

Bill’s passion was very firmly focused on the Turtle Dove Trust (Charitable Trust No. 1186288) which he founded in 2019 along with Edward Pope and Chris Knights, to raise awareness of and to garner support for this unique species.  Bill wanted to prove that captive breeding, and a highly active release program, would successfully secure the future of the Turtle Dove in the United Kingdom.

Sadly, Bill died peacefully on March 27th, 2022, aged 90. 

Nicholas Watts MBE - Chairman

Nicholas Watts has successfully farmed at Vine House Farm since 1964, during which time the farm has grown from the 400 acres he inherited to around 3500 acres today.

Having kept a wildlife diary since his teenage years, Nicholas started surveying the birds that were breeding on his farm. He realised that there had been a large decline of some species. Skylark numbers were down by 60%, and Corn Buntings by 90%. Worried, Nicholas decided to try to stop the decline

His annual surveys dating from 1982 subsequently helped guide his farm management choices. Since 1992 there has been extensive habitat creation at Vine House Farm with Nicholas sharing the results of his conservation ideas and trials with other interested farmers and conservation bodies.

Nicholas has won more awards for conservation on his farm than any other farmer in the UK. In 2006 Nicholas was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for his services to farming and conservation in Lincolnshire.

Nicholas said: “This is totally unexpected. It’s a shock but a very nice one. It’s nice to have all my work over the years recognised … I like to see the birds about and help other people look after the birds on their farms. I am a farmer as well as a conservationist. It goes hand in hand. II suppose this is what all the work I’ve done over the years has amounted to.”

His enthusiasm and inspiration also led to the creation of Vine House Farm Bird Seeds. With the help of his farm and business teams, Nicholas is now able to dedicate more time to his passion of caring for farmland wildlife and, in support of the Turtle Dove Trust, Nicholas has agreed a new role as trustee and Chairman of the Trust.

VHF 2 Ag 2021
"I could see wildlife was in trouble, but I was just lucky that I'm interested in birds, and I could do something to help"

Chris Knights - Trustee

A farmer-naturalist and wildlife photographer, Chris Knights is native to Norfolk and has had an interest in wildlife from childhood. Now retired, Chris used to run a 9,500-acre arable farm at Gooderstone, near Swaffham. His interest in photography started in the 1950s and in the late 1960s he met Sir Peter Scott and together they made several films for Survival Anglia. In pursuit of photography, Chris has travelled the globe: North America, Australia, East Africa, Europe and the Arctic. Chris, like his friend Bill Makins, has previous experience of wildlife conservation; he was largely responsible for saving the Stone Curlew from extinction in East Anglia. The initial and urgent work for this summer migrant and breeder was pioneered by Chris before being taken over by the RSPB. Now worried about the plight of the Turtle Dove, Chris has become a trustee in support of the Turtle Dove Trust’s values and objectives.

Edward Pope - Trustee

Brought up on a family farm in Norfolk, Edward Pope is a passionate conservationist. Having travelled extensively to Africa, his passion for conservation extends far and wide; he has created the Watatunga Wildlife Reserve which specialises in threatened bird and ungulate species. As a huge admirer of Sir Peter Scott and Bill Makins in the exciting and maverick approaches they took to conservation, particularly of wildfowl, Edward jumped at the chance to work alongside Bill when asked to become a trustee of the Turtle Dove Trust. On visiting Chris Knights’ photographic gallery many years ago and having shared so much in common as a keen naturalist and arable farmer himself, Edward has always admired Chris for his combination of wildlife conservation together with impressive farming operations and a huge talent for wildlife photography. It is hoped that the beautiful call and flash of colour from the Turtle Dove will not just be a distant memory of Edward’s time in Africa but commonplace back in the UK.