Dame Judi to judge school poetry competition

DORSET schoolchildren, who are taking part in a poetry competition to support the appeal for the barn owl barn at Bere Marsh Farm, will have their entries judged by one of Britain’s best loved and critically acclaimed actresses, Dame Judi Dench.

The Oscar and BAFTA award-winning star has thrilled youngsters and teachers at schools in the Blandford and Sturminster Newton areas by agreeing to judge the Icons of the Landscape competition to support the fund-raising campaign to replace the roof on the owls’ tumbledown home, in which they have nested and reared young for more than 20 years.

“It is no exaggeration to say excitement levels are through the roof,” says Charlotte Weatherley, assistant head of Knighton House School and creator of the Icons competition. “We are absolutely delighted by Dame Judi’s wonderful gesture of support as she will be offering her expertise to our young writers and performers and casting an expert gaze over their efforts.

“At Knighton House and, indeed, throughout all of Dorset we take our learning very seriously. What we learn is as important as how we learn it. In the very varied roles she has played and her resilience under difficult circumstances, Dame Judi Dench personifies the learner all pupils aspire to be.”

The competition, which has a junior section for youngsters in the 7-11 age group and a senior category open to those aged between 12-14, requires entrants to write, perform and record a poem inspired by the term, Icons of the Landscape. They can, if they wish, ask someone else to perform it or be joined by others in their own performance.

It is open to all the schools in the Blandford Schools Network, including Bryanston, Knighton House, The Blandford School and eight local primary schools, as well as five invited schools including Sturminster Newton High, William Barnes Primary, St Nicholas Primary, Clayesmore School (Prep and Senior School) and Hanford Prep School. Overall, it is anticipated that close to 1,000 youngsters will take part. The closing date is 16th November.

The competition is supporting the £30,000 fund raising campaign by the wildlife friendly farming charity, the Countryside Restoration Trust, which has bought Bere Marsh Farm at Shillingstone.

The barn owls, a key indicator species of a healthy environment, are regularly spotted by families, ramblers, naturalists and cyclists using trailways and footpaths which cross the 92-acre farm. They are in severe danger of becoming homeless, just before the onset of winter, because the roof of their ancient barn is on the brink of collapse.

“The barn owls are iconic of Bere Marsh and very much beloved by young and old throughout the surrounding community. We felt compelled to help the CRT in its efforts to save them from becoming forced out and homeless. It would have been unthinkable not to act,” says Charlotte Weatherley.

The support and enthusiasm of the schools for the owls struck Dame Judi, who is Patron of the Countryside Restoration Trust, so she decided the youngsters should get her support. Joining her in the judging duties will be Dorset poet and writer, David Caddy, author of eight books and editor of the international literary journal, Tears in the Fence.

Elaine Spencer White, the trust’s manager at Bere Marsh, says: “Icons of the Landscape is a wonderful tribute to the barn owls and a brilliant subject for a poetry competition. We are grateful to all the schools and pupils who are participating and are delighted that the owls have evoked such affection and support. Saving them is paramount – they are the very symbols of Bere Marsh and our oldest residents.”

The winners and runners-up will be announced on 27th November.

Pictured: Dame Judi Dench © Countryside Restoration Trust