Nicholas FordThis Autumn I retire after more than 14 years at the helm of the Ernest Cook Trust. This has been the most rewarding, varied and stimulating job, combining my experience as a land agent with my passion for countryside education.

When I arrived at ECT in April 2002, there was no direct education work on our estates. The Trust had just begun running school visits when suddenly they were halted by the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 and we had to start again from scratch.

So in the capable hands of our Head of Education Anne Newman, I have seen our education provision grow from those few school visits on the Fairford Estate in Gloucestershire, to what we have today; education centres on all our estates welcoming over 30,000 children a year, and programmes every school day led by an experienced team of education officers.

If you ask me what I’m most proud of in my time here, it has to be this phenomenal growth in our direct education work. It’s very exciting that we do this, and that we do it so well – so well in fact that the Ernest Cook Trust is now recognised nationally as an authority in outdoor learning.

I have also had the pleasure of seeing the Trust’s grant giving triple during my time. This is attributable to the foresight of my predecessor John Malleson and the then Trustees in developing and selling Fairford Leys, giving the Trust the assets to invest and in turn, expand its grants programme.

Of course at the heart of all this is the management of the land and built heritage, which was so important to our founder Ernest Cook, and for which it continues to be seen as an exemplar of good practice. Without the land none of the Trust’s charitable work could take place.

I’m proud of the sense of continuity the Trust promotes, the fact that many of our farms have been in the same families for generations – and that our farmers continue to be at the forefront of advances in agriculture. I would also like to pay tribute to the ‘unsung heroes’ of the administration and accounts staff whose support is so vital to the efficient running of the Trust.

I am thrilled to be handing over the Chief Executive’s role to my very capable successor Victoria Edwards at such an exciting time. The Trust is here to grow, not to stand still, and in the coming weeks the Trustees will be discussing plans for the expansion and consolidation of our work.

My years with the Trust, working alongside such skilled and experienced Trustees and colleagues, and seeing so many thousands of children and young people benefit from learning from the land in the process, have been an absolute privilege.