Farmer follows example of ’70s pop star

Ceri Jones Ceri.Jones@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail – The National Newspaper Of Wales, 24 February 2003.

A WELSH farmer offering plots of his land to townies seeking a breath of fresh air is following the example of a famous pop star.

David Price’s Adopt-a-Plot project at his Barland Farm, near Presteigne, Powys, is following in the footsteps originally trodden by Manfred Mann more than 25 years ago.

More than 25 years ago when the environment movement was in its infancy, Manfred Mann bought 10 acres of wild and desolate hillside near Builth Wells.

The pop star then proceeded to give it all away, offering fans who bought a copy of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band LP, The Good Earth, a square foot parcel of land along with their 10 new music tracks.

But whereas Mr Price’s scheme aims to help people get a taste of the countryside, the Manfred Mann initiative was aimed at conservation and preserving the hillside in its natural state.

At the time the star’s agent said, “His idea is that no one will be able to build upon this land and it will be kept just as it is for ever – a gift to future generations.”

And the musician and composer said, “This was an idea of mine to conserve this land – a beautiful part of Wales – in the nicest way I could think.”

Today Manfred Mann’s 10 acres, situated near the head of the Irfon Valley at Llanerchyfa, Abergwesyn, remains as untouched as it was back in 1974.

Although the pop star and some of the fans who took advantage of his offer were reunited on the land a few years ago for a TV programme, it is today largely left to sheep and shepherds and the occasional wild pony as it has been for decades.

Band member Mick Rogers said yesterday, “It’s in a lovely spot. The whole aim of the scheme was to protect the land.

It seemed a nice thing to do at the time. We certainly did not do it for publicity.

“The album did fairly well and each album cover entitled you to a plot of the land. I think we sold a fair amount.

“Because so many people own the land it can’t be sold.”

South African-born Manfred Mann, now 58, bought the land through the private Economic Forestry Unit in 1974 and is thought to have paid £1,000 for it.

The musician and composer formed a company, Petbrook, to look after and administer it.

Every fan who bought the LP, which cost £2.50, received an application form to be returned to his record company by December 1975, and in return they received the documented freehold deed to one square foot.

Although today the exact number of plots given out remains uncertain, if all 435,600 available pieces had been taken up it would have made the site the world’s most expensive nature conservancy scheme.

A decade ago there was some concern at the state of the site, and the company which had sold it said that fans had not taken advantage of their tiny plots.

Five years ago Manfred Mann met many of them – including some who made the trip to Wales from Germany – for a BBC Countryfile programme on the scheme.

“It was lovely to see it,” said Mick Rogers.

“Manfred stood on a plot and mimed to the record.”

However, local county councillor Tim Van-Rees, who did not know what had happened to the land, said, “I’m sure we can come up with a more meaningful conservation scheme than doing this.

“I can’t see either the Countyrside Council for Wales or any of the statutory bodies will go a bundle on this.

“If I was minded to do such a scheme the best thing is to hand it over to the RSPB [Royal Society for the Protection of Birds] or CPRW [Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales] or a proper organ-isation like that.”