Obituary: Lord Melchett, 1948 – 2018

People have been sharing memories of Peter Melchett, Labour Peer and lifelong environmental campaigner, who has passed away at the age of 70.

Green World
Peter Melchett
Image: Soil Association


Labour Peer and environmental campaigner Peter Melchett passed away last week at the age of 70.

As a Labour minister in the House of Lords, Lord Melchett – who inherited his peerage from his father before going on to vote against hereditary peerages in Parliament – worked across a number of departments, beginning in what was then the Department of the Environment, where he chaired an inquiry into the hotly-debated topic of pop music festivals in 1976.

From 1979 to 1981, he served on the opposition Front Bench in the House of Lords, focusing on wildlife and the environment – an area where he had significant impact, tabling a number of key amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, still the principle legal instrument for wildlife protection in the UK. Among other things, this act dealt with the designation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and strengthened protections for native wild birds, including the highly-endangered curlew. 

Maintaining his environmental passions once leaving the political sphere, Melchett worked in a voluntary capacity for various groups, including Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). After four years on the Board of Greenpeace UK, in 1989 he was appointed Executive Director, in which role he oversaw campaigns against whaling and the dumping of nuclear waste, among others. 

Heard earlier today of the death of Peter Melchett - feeling so sad. Peter was a consummate campaigner (at Greenpeace and Soil Association), a wise and compassionate advocate for everything that really matters,and a true friend.

— Jonathon Porritt (@jonathonporritt) 30 August 2018

In 1999, Melchett was famously arrested as part of a campaign against genetically modified (GM) crops, though he and his fellow protesters were later acquitted of theft and criminal damage for cutting down GM maize from a farm in Norfolk, where it was being trialled.

Following his retirement from Greenpeace in 2001, Melchett then moved to work as Policy Director at the Soil Association, a charity campaigning for healthy soil, food and farming, where he remained until his death. The organisation has described him as ‘a true campaigner’ and ‘an important, charismatic figure in the environment and organic movements throughout his lifetime’.

We are so saddened by the death of Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association and champion of the environment and organic movement. A true campaigner all his days, he will be greatly missed by all his Soil Association colleagues

— Soil Association (@SoilAssociation) 31 August 2018

Molly Scott Cato MEP has praised Melchett’s achievements with the Soil Association, saying: “I am so saddened to hear of the death of Peter Melchett, a tireless campaigner for a form of farming that worked with nature rather than against her. His work with the Soil Association helped establish its international reputation as the leading body on organic farming principles. By pushing for the highest possible standards of animal welfare and environmental and wildlife protection, his life’s work will stand the test of time.”

Melchett’s recognised expertise led him to sit on the BBC’s Rural Affairs Committee, as well as the government’s School Lunches Review Panel and Rural Climate Change Forum – at the same time as running his family’s 890-acre organic farm.

Hundreds of people have been sharing tributes to Melchett on Twitter, with Green MP Caroline Lucas describing him as ‘an environment hero, combining brave campaigning, brilliant political advocacy and policy making, and as a pioneering organic farmer, proof that we can do things differently and better’. She added: ‘The Green movement owes him a huge debt.’

A website, titled Celebrating Peter, has now been set up in Melchett's memory as a place where all those who knew him can share thoughts and anecdotes.