Lord Clinton, one of the Westcountry’s most prominent and forward-thinking landowners, has died at his home in East Devon after a short illness.  He was 89.

Born Gerard Nevile Mark Fane on October 7 1934, he became the 22nd Baron Clinton in 1965, taking on responsibility for 25,000 acres across three estates in North and East Devon, collectively known as Clinton Devon Estates.  He died on April 2.

He leaves his wife, Nicola, always known as Nicky, and three children, the Hon Charles Patrick Rolle Fane Trefusis, who will succeed him, and daughters Caroline and Henrietta.

Lord Clinton made his home for many years at Heanton Satchville at Huish, near Merton, in the Torridge district, before moving with his wife to East Devon around five years ago.

The eldest child and only son of Capt. Charles Nevile Fane and Gladys Mable Lowther, Lord Clinton was born at 23 Belgrave Square, London – now the German Embassy - and educated at Cothill Preparatory School and Gordonstoun in Moray, Scotland.

Much of his childhood was spent with his great grandfather, Charles Trefusis, 21st Baron Clinton having lost his father, Charles, who was killed in action in Flanders, shortly before the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 when Gerard was five.

After National Service with the Royal Scots between 1953 and 1955 he trained as a land agent, inheriting his title as the 22nd Baron Clinton from his great grandfather, who died in 1957.  The title was in abeyance for eight years and Lord Clinton took up his seat in the House of Lords in 1965.

During his lifetime Lord Clinton secured the long-term sustainability of the 700-year-old Estates - the largest in family ownership in Devon - turning a traditional landed estate into a leading land management enterprise fit for the 21st century.

Clinton Devon Estates won numerous awards under his stewardship, including being judged four times winner of the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work for, three times winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the category for Sustainable Development and a recipient of the 2012 Food and Farming Industry Awards. 

In his later years Lord Clinton oversaw one of the biggest conservation projects in the UK, the Lower Otter Restoration Project.

The ten-year project, completed a few months ago, was regularly visited by Lord Clinton during construction.

Clinton Devon Estates comprises farmland and forestry in East and North Devon including woodlands of national importance and the 2,800-acre Pebblebed Heaths and Otter Estuary in East Devon – now designated a National Nature Reserve, part of the newly named Kings’ Series of nature reserves.

There are around 300 residential properties, the majority let to tenants, as well as commercial buildings and the Bicton Arena, at East Budleigh, a leading equestrian venue in East Devon.

Projects undertaken during Lord Clinton’s lifetime include a major residential development, Plumb Park, at Exmouth, which saw the creation of more than 250 homes on Estate land and the building of an innovative Estate Office set in Grade 1 listed parkland at Bicton.

Lord Clinton held high office in a wide range of local, regional and national organisations and was a member or supporter of many others. He was active in the House of Lords between 1965 and 1999 and served as a Justice of the Peace for twenty years until 1983 and as a Deputy Lieutenant of Devon from 1977. He sat on the Council of the Duchy of Cornwall from 1968 to 1979.

Lord Clinton took a close interest in the tenanted and in-hand farming enterprises on the Estate, particularly the Devon Red Cattle.  His herd was culled during the foot and mouth crisis of 2001, which he later admitted caused him enormous distress.

He was also a passionate forester, spending many hours inspecting the Estates woodlands, which he saw as both an environmental asset and, when the time came, a crop of sustainable timber to be harvested.  In 2019 he unveiled a plaque to mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Forestry Commission – in the same North Devon wood where his great grandfather had planted the newly created Commission’s first trees. 

Notably, he was a former president of the Royal Forestry Society (RFS). 

Forestry Journal: Former RFS president Lord Clinton presenting long-service awards in 2019 Former RFS president Lord Clinton presenting long-service awards in 2019 (Image: RFS)

In his personal time Lord Clinton enjoyed fishing and had an abiding passion for horse racing and sailing. He was also a member of The Royal Yacht Squadron, one of the most exclusive yacht clubs in the world, and the Turf Club. 

In an afterword to the official history of the barony, he wrote: “The historical background to the Clinton title is embedded in holding land. As a trustee for life of the Clinton Estate, it has been of fundamental importance to me to manage and build on all that I inherited from my great grandfather so that I, in turn, might pass on a thriving estate to the next generation.”

This article originally appeared in our sister title, the Exmouth Journal. Forestry Journal will have more on Lord Clinton in the coming weeks.