Local people have leapt to the defence of tenants at Pierrepont Farm in Frensham amid reports of wholesale changes and rent hikes being imposed by the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT).

The Herald has received many letters condemning farm owner the CRT’s decision to terminate the lease of the Craft Brews brewery and taproom and increase the rent of other tenants.

One correspondent, David Turtle from Frensham, has even threatened to tear up his CRT membership should the charity not reverse its decision, and is encouraging others to do likewise.

A petition (https://tinyurl.com/9n78nr5k) calling on the CRT to reverse its decision has also mustered more than 2,000 signatures in just three days.

And a ‘Save CraftBrews at Pierrepont Farm’ Facebook page has been set up by a Craft Brews regular who claims the brewery has been a lifeline for him since the beginning of the pandemic.

Both Craft Brews and Pierrepont’s tenant farmer Mike Clear declined the opportunity to comment publicly, and the CRT has said its discussions with the farm’s tenants are strictly confidential.

But the CRT’s chief executive officer Danielle Dewe has issued a statement responding to the “speculation”, reaffirming the CRT’s commitment to Pierrepont’s “long-term future as a working farm and hub for local businesses in line with the wishes of our late benefactor, Jo Reader”.

Mrs Dewe added the use of the brewery and taproom “will not change substantially” after Craft Brews’ lease expires in mid-November – but hinted a new lease with a replacement tenant is yet to be agreed.

Responding to claims the CRT is imposing a three-fold rent increase on tenant farmer Mike Clear, whose lease runs until 2024, Mrs Dewe added: “Rightly, we offer very generous rents to our tenant farmers, in return for upholding the conservation principles we hold dear. Naturally, we must also ensure we safeguard the long-term interests of the charity.”

The CRT chief continued: “Whatever the final outcome of discussions, we can assure the local community that Pierrepont will remain a dairy or cattle farm that will be in keeping with our vision of a living, working countryside with a focus on sensitive, wildlife-friendly farming, strong community involvement and creating an environment for food sustainability.”