Simon Pepper OBE (1947-2018)
It was with great sadness that the Trustees of the Andrew Raven Trust learnt of the death of our Founding Chair Simon Pepper in September 2018. Quite simply the Andrew Raven Trust would not have happened without Simon’s energy, knowledge and commitment to rural communities and rural land management. At his memorial gathering, organised by his family in Aberfeldy in October, Simon’s grandchildren handed round baskets of acorns to the 300 plus attendees: an elegant, symbolic but also practical act that stresses the sense of continuity that remains in communities, even after the loss of individual members. A number of acorns have now been planted here in the Trust’s home in Morvern in his memory.
Simon’s role with the Trust was catalysed by his longstanding friendship with Andrew Raven OBE (1959-2005) whom he first met during the mid-1990s’ negotiations around the future of Mar Lodge: a meeting Simon remembered in his thoughtful postscript to the Trust book ‘Notes from Morvern’ published in 2017. The two men found common ground in their purposeful, intellectual but principally person-centred and practical understanding of environmental and rural affairs. Both were interested not only in contributing to debates and actions in the field of Scottish policy but also how that policy was shaped and developed through everyday lives and actions on the ground.
Simon’s ‘on the ground’ could be found in the farm he in bought in 1978 in Aberfeldy with his wife Morag and where, until 1985, he ran Cultullich Holidays a venture designed to bring visitors into closer relation with the local place – both cultural and environmental. He continued to actively run this 42 hectare mixed use hill farm in tandem with an increasingly active role in rural policy first through his role at WWF Scotland (1985-2005) subsequently advising Donald Dewar’s office on the establishment of National Parks in Scotland and then serving on the Boards of Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Deer Commission for Scotland, and a cabinet subcommittee on sustainable Scotland. His skill as a negotiator with a talent for bringing people together was shown in his role in creating Scottish Environment Link (1987): an organisation that continues to provide a shared forum for the many, diverse organisations that exist with an interest in Scotland’s rural environment.
His and Andrew’s paths continued to cross in these many roles and they worked closely together on the development of the Millennium Forest for Scotland alongside many colleagues securing £27m for more than 22,000 hectares of woodland. The particular challenges of Highland land use continued to preoccupy Simon and led to him becoming a regular visitor to Andrew’s own ‘on the ground’ at Ardtornish Estate – the Highland Estate owned by Andrew’s family since 1930 – firstly as Andrew’s guest and after Andrew’s death as the catalyst and organiser of the annual Andrew Raven Trust gatherings from 2007 onwards. Simon’s ability to convene widely differing viewpoints and create stimulating environments for listening as well as talking set the template for what some have described as the ‘alchemy’ of the Trust gatherings.
One of the last public roles that Simon undertook was the Chair of the Deer Working Group (2017) which is due to make recommendations on the sustainable management of wild deer in Scotland in 2019. The subject of deer remains an exceptional fraught one in the Scottish Highlands and it is one that Andrew understood well as Chair of the then Deer Commission for Scotland at the time of his death in 2005. Simon and the Trustees have often reflected on the persistence of divisions that exist on the ground – and at policy level – around deer management. The phrase ‘the deer in the room’ is sometimes used to symbolise difficult subjects at meetings! There is no doubt that Simon’s knowledge and wisdom would have contributed to this continuing live debate and his loss will be keenly felt. And yet the work he did on so many fronts lives on in others. His colleagues on the Working Group, as for us as the Trustees of the Andrew Raven Trust learnt from him in so many ways and we will take forward his work, and his thinking, in the spirit that he has left so strongly, and constructively embedded in all of us.
(Simon Pepper is survived survived by his wife, Morag (nee Mackenzie), a publisher, whom he married in 1973, and by five children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren).