Meet the new High Sheriff of Kent
PUBLISHED: 22:44 30 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:34 20 February 2013
Michael Bax on balancing business demands with being Kent's High Sheriff, fishing the Stour and the practical rural initiatives he wants to implement during his year in office
Meet the new High Sheriff of Kent
Michael Bax on balancing business demands with being Kents High Sheriff, fishing the Stour and the practical rural initiatives he wants to implement during his year in office
Sitting in the sunshine chatting to Mike Bax and his wife Jan, overlooking their pond-rich lovely grounds in Shadoxhurst, Im learning how our new High Sheriff kept his country roots in a family that for the past 200 years has been devoted to service in the Navy.
Turns out Mike is being utterly faithful to his origins - the Bax line goes back to the 14th century when the family lived as blacksmiths and small yeoman farmers in the Sandwich area.
In the late 17th century there was a move westwards to Faversham, where the family prospered as farmers and brewers (a Bax daughter married Samuel Shepherd and brought her own brewery to that marriage).
But by the onset of the Napoleonic Wars the Bax focus had moved into the service of the Empire with several generations of naval and military involvement.
When my father retired in the late 1950s as a Commander after the war the direct line at that point included Admirals all the way back to Stephen Bax, who gave all his wealth to the East Kent Yeomanry around 1800.
I was the first one for four or five generations not to be in the Navy, but my father was very broadminded and also knew that my heart was in the countryside. Id always wanted to be a farmer from around the age of four or five. There was no land in the family, but I think these things are just in your genes.
He adds: I went to school at Kings Canterbury and was in the naval section the CCF and became a leading seaman, so made a tiny contribution towards a Navy career. Its a very interesting heritage.
Mike, 58, has spent his business career advising farmers and landowners in Kent and East Sussex. He is senior partner of the BTF Partnership, a land agency practice based at Challock and will continue to act for land owners, farmers and rural estates across the county during his Shrieval year.
He sits on the steering group of Kent Rural plc, a new initiative set up to promote Kent agriculture and horticulture, and also runs his own farm between Ashford and Tenterden, which includes about 120 acres of semi-natural ancient woodland, the remnants of the old Weald forest.
Nowadays Ive become a bit of a tree hugger and we work very hard on the woodland, where were getting quite a habitat, as well as terrific flora, including orchids, hellebore and wood anenomes, says Mike.
He and his wife Jan have two grown-up children, Will and Sarah and a granddaughter Tabitha about whom Pops says: Im a besotted grandfather if only I could get Tabitha here every day Id be happy!
So how on earth will he juggle work, family, farm and his official duties? Its pretty challenging, he admits. Im running the Sheriffing from the office, where I have a full-time secretary, and Im trying to get into the office every day, even if its only for a short while. Ive got to carry on earning a living.
Because of my working commitments I want to very much focus on stuff that is totally relevant to being a High Sheriff, so I am focusing on the criminal justice system and the probation service basically, everything that goes with keeping law and order in Kent and keeping the county safe.
I want to feel that Im really achieving rather than just going round and seeing people.
Mike, who was installed on 1 April at the Church of St Matthew in Warehorne (complete with sheep in the churchyard and country views across Romney Marsh), has already set up several rural initiatives he hopes to build on.
One of his first official visits was to the West Kent Neighbourhood Watch and he is keen to help its chairman, Peter Rollington, roll out the forward-thinking programme across the whole of Kent.
Mike is also extremely concerned about the growth in rural crime, from hare coursing to metal and fuel theft, and is keen to use lessons learnt from the Neighbourhood Watch model to develop a Farm Watch.
The National Gamekeepers Organisation runs a course for police clarifying the issues they see in the countryside that might require police attention and Ive put them in touch with Kent police and I hope we might build on that. I think that could be a very useful alliance.
Finally, he is running a campaign on a subject hes passionate about litter. There are so many roads in Kent that are a complete mess and weve got the Olympics coming and visitors dont want to be driving around our litter-strewn county, he says.
Natural England published a new Countryside Code on 5 April and while we all knew when we were kids about shut gates, dont light fires, all that kind of stuff, its gone very low-key these days. Id like to see awareness moved up the agenda.
Theres a slogan - Protect Respect Enjoy which I think is very good for the countryside. So weve had a crack at that and the media are following it up, which is good. Dropping litter is a criminal offence, so its all relevant to the High Sheriff role.
Some aspects of the role, however, have been a bit of a shock, despite his personal experience as an agricultural arbitrator. Ive been involved in litigious situations and have appeared as witness in court giving evidence on values and so forth, so the procedures are not unfamiliar, but I have never seen anything of the criminal justice system and its very different and pretty frightening, he admits.
I sat in the Coroners Court last week in Dover and we saw a horrible suicide, complete with photos, two drug-related deaths where the coroner had to decide between suicide or natural causes and a couple of nasty car accidents, again complete with photos, and you just realise there is so much going on that we know nothing about.
I get the impression thats a situation that wont last long with Mike, who has literally hit the ground running and has a clear vision of where hes going.
I am a businessman, so I dont want to just go around meeting people, I want to feel that Ive achieved something in my year. I think I can bring some real relevance to the role of the Sheriff in the 21st century.
MY FAVOURITE KENT
Places to eat: Jans a very good cook so we tend not to go out an awful lot but if we do we like The Kings Head in Shadoxhurst very much, its excellent, as is Froggies restaurant in Bodsham
Local tipples: Ive been educated by Produced in Kent on how good our English wines are in Kent and were very fond of Biddenden Ortega and their Ros well be serving plenty of that at judges dinners. I have a loyalty to Shepherd Neame beers because of the family connection and I know Jonathan well, so I feel guilty buying anything else! I like Bishops Finger, Spitfire theyre all good. I enjoyed the Nelson Brewery beers when I visited Chatham Dockyards recently. And well pop over to to buy High Sheriffs booze
Hobbies: Im a very keen fisherman and a member of the Stour Fishery Association which has fishing on the Stour, which fits in very well with leaving the office at 6.30/7pm gives me an hour and a half to catch a trout and come home and eat it. Thats a bit of a treat. I play a bit of tennis in the evenings and belong to two very nice fours.
Places: I love the Wye Downs, Romney Marsh and Im very fond of the old family base around Faversham. I went to school at Canterbury and my grandmother lived in the precincts for years so I got to know it very well and love it. I went to Kings in 1967 and shed been there five years before that, I had a key to her door and we didnt have telly at school in those days so I used to rush off to grannys after school and watch the cricket and football with a glass of Sherry! Good times.