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UPDATED: Bernard Tickner, founder of Lackford Lakes and creator of Fullers Mill Garden, dies aged 93

Bernard Tickner.'''Picture: Mecha Morton
Bernard Tickner.'''Picture: Mecha Morton

Bernard Tickner, one of the founders of Lackford Lakes and creator of Fullers Mill Garden, has died aged 93.

Hailed as a ‘force to be reckoned with’, the roots of his impressive legacy – steeped in an enthusiasm for the plants in which he found solace – can be felt throughout the community.

Bernard Tickner cuts the cake to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Lackford Lakes. Picture: Mecha Morton.
Bernard Tickner cuts the cake to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Lackford Lakes. Picture: Mecha Morton.

With a career as head brewer for Greene King, he was a major supporter of Suffolk Wildlife Trust and devoted 60 years to developing Fullers Mill, in West Stow.

Just a few weeks ago, he was made an MBE at his beloved garden – which he gifted to charity Perennial in 2013 – in recognition of his services to wildlife conservation and horticulture.

Peter Newman, chief executive of Perennial, said: “Bernard was, to all those who knew him, a force to be reckoned with.

“His age was no barrier and he continued to play a full role in the development of his beloved garden at Fullers Mill and to make a valued contribution to Suffolk wildlife conservation until very recently.

“His contribution to the local brewing industry in Suffolk has seen long-standing economic growth and worldwide renown for Greene King and his place in the world of horticulture, through the creation of Fullers Mill Garden and his subsequent gifting of it to Perennial, shall be his legacy for many generations to come.

“I feel honoured to have known him and on behalf of all those at Perennial, I must thank him again for his generosity in bestowing his garden to our care and for his commitment to changing the lives of horticulturists for the better through his support of the only charity dedicated to their wellbeing.”

Mr Tickner was born in 1924 in Hadleigh, where his father was a bank manager and a keen gardener.

His schooling was curtailed by World War Two when he was commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery and he served in East Africa.

After military service he was given the chance to enter the brewing industry and rose to become head brewer and later production director of Greene King, in Bury St Edmunds.

He developed the award-winning Abbot Ale and the original recipe for The Queen Elizabeth Celebration Ale in May 1953.

A bottle of this ale was added to a Diamond Jubilee celebratory cake, delivered to Buckingham Palace in May 2012.

Despite his successful brewing career, his enthusiasm, energy and solace were always focused on his love of plants.

With his Norwegian wife Betzy, known as Bess, he moved from a flat in Bury St Edmunds to Fullers Mill in 1958 and began making the garden in what was an area of rough scrub and woodland, set on the River Lark.

Today the gardens cover some seven acres, laid out as a series of interconnecting areas.

In January 2013 he entrusted it to Perennial, the UK’s only charity dedicated to helping all horticulturists, in order to secure its future so that visitors can enjoy the garden for years to come.

Mr Tickner was mainly self-taught and was determined to absorb information from all books he could find on plants and horticulture.

He studied Latin, Greek and botany to equip himself to engage with the world of plant science and horticulture.

Experience built over the years was inspired and encouraged by his peers, including Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.

Being colour blind, he was most interested in the sculptural quality of a plant, but was always amused to receive compliments on his colour schemes.

Mr Tickner was always ably supported by his wife Betzy and before she died in 2002 they established a charitable trust in order to safeguard the long-term future of the gardens for public benefit.

The Fullers Mill Trust was launched in 2004 to promote scientific, horticultural, botanical, scenic, educational, research and ecological objects including conservation of nature, improvement of horticultural methods, vocational training and enjoyment of the public.

In January 2013, the assets and aspirations of the Fullers Mill Trust were transferred as a gift to Perennial – Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society.

The garden is home to more than 80 types of lily and a similar number of snowdrop cultivars which bloom from October to March.

The collection of Euphorbia is equally striking. During one of their regular excursions to Crete,

His wife discovered Iris cretensis ‘Bess Tickner’, which was subsequently introduced to the garden.

Mr Tickner also developed a fine collection of alpine plants which benefit from the sandy, well drained but moist soil alongside Mill Steam.

One is named after him, a yellow form of Fritillaria pyrenaica, which he discovered in the Pyrenees some 30 years ago.

His love of gardening led to a lifelong commitment to ecological and wildlife conservation and throughout his lifetime Mr Tickner was a loyal and generous supporter of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

After moving to Fullers Mill he was faced with the incursion of gravel extraction on adjacent land and fought a lengthy battle over 40 years to prevent the destruction of habitat and obliteration of historical waterways.

He founded the community action Lark Valley Gravel Group, which co-ordinated efforts of parishes throughout the Lark Valley (Lackford, Hengrave, Culford, West Stow and The Fornhams) to campaign against planning applications, press for appropriate planning constraints and to ensure that restorative plans should be for the exclusive benefit of wildlife conservation and public access.

By his efforts through the group he ensured the protection of the Culford Stream, a fine gravel bed stream that is home to wild trout, and prevented the felling and removal of Ash Carr Wood, an outstanding example of wet woodland.

Mr Tickner, who was vice president of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, effectively founded Lackford Lakes nature reserve 30 years ago.

In 1987, he purchased the ‘worked out’ section of quarry known as The Slough and passed the land onto the trust to create the reserve.

He was a major supporter of the trust’s campaign to raise £200,000 to buy land to extend the reserve.

He donated £100,000 towards the appeal and to extend the existing visitor centre.

This included a cheque for £65,000 during a weekend of celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of Lackford.

Julian Roughton, chief executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said: “Bernard’s extraordinary vision combined with his determination and generosity made the impossible possible.

“He was one of Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s earliest members joining in 1966 and over the next 50 years he was at the heart of Suffolk Wildlife Trust as trustee, vice president, benefactor and, of course, founder of Lackford Lakes nature reserve.

“It is a measure of the man that even in his 93rd year Bernard achieved so much – being awarded an MBE and securing more land for wildlife by enabling the purchase of an extra 77 acres alongside Lackford Lakes.

“I had hoped that Bernard would open a new extension to Lackford Lakes visitor centre - the Bernard & Bess Tickner Wild Learning Room.

“This was funded by Bernard and reflects his passionate belief that young people should be given every opportunity to discover nature.

“Bernard will be remembered by all of us privileged enough to know him – for his humour, wit and generosity.

“Lackford Lakes, brimming with wildlife, is the lasting legacy that Bernard has left Suffolk and everyone who loves nature.”

When he received his MBE, Mr Tickner told the Bury Free Press: “I am truly honoured to have been made an MBE.

“I have loved living in this part of Suffolk and feel very fortunate to have been able to work and live here for as long as I have.”

He wrote about his varied life in a memoir, A Scratch in the Soil, published in June 2017.

He died peacfully at Pinford End Nursing Home, in Hawstead, on Tuesday.

His book is available to buy from Fullers Mill or visit https://shop.perennial.org.uk/products/book-a-scratch-in-the-soil

For more information about the garden visit www.fullersmillgarden.org.uk

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