WARM tributes have been paid to a “living, breathing force of nature” who left a community orchard as “a legacy of his vision and hard work”.

David Baker, from Fordham, died at the age of 75 after a struggle with cancer.

His lasting legacy is the village’s community orchard, which was first floated as a project in 2008 after land belonging to the Woodland Trust was made available.

Now boasting a mixture of fruit trees, David and a group of fellow conservationists set out to transform the 500 acres of land.

Close friend Simon Aldridge said: “This beautiful little area has become a shining beacon within the ever-declining varieties of apple, fruits, plums and gages.

“The orchard contains some of the rarest varieties of these trees in the country, all through the work and vision of one man.”

David’s younger sister Linda Small holds his love of nature among some of her earliest memories.

“I remember being hoisted onto his shoulders and transported through the Essex countryside, where he would talk about wildlife,” she said.

“I was around four at the time.”

David worked as a painter and decorator, but his heart and soul belonged to the outdoors.

Simon said as a child David developed a love of nature which manifested itself in the 1960s, when he saved a section of land which, with his help, became Iron Latch Woodland, in Eight Ash Green.

He was involved with the Woodland Trust in the late 1990s, saving an area of wetland flood plain at Fordham, land which still holds five rare endangered species of sedges and grasses.

Simon added: “To say that he has shaped our environment is not enough.

“It goes much deeper. He was a living, breathing force of nature. Just as much a part of it as it is a part of all of us. He was a truly special man.”

Simon said noted Suffolk writer and poet Ronald Blythe once described David as a “Hedgerow preacher”.

“This was a perfect description of a man whose faith was formed and rooted in the green leaves and rich soil of the land around him,” he said.

“He became a cornerstone of the village of Fordham, just as integral as the church on the hillside and the river in the valley, and every tree, flower and animal that surrounds the village.

“Whether he was presenting a slideshow of flora and fauna to the local history society, or taking people on one of his organised walks around the village, pointing out species of interest, always accompanied by a dog or two.

“It was his warmth and encyclopaedic knowledge that people loved and inspired them to connect to the nature around us.”

The people of Fordham are raising £500 to fund a bench and tree, to be planted in the orchard, in David’s memory.

To donate, visit justgiving.com/crowdfunding/david-baker-memorial.