Conservationist and writer Roger Perry dies aged 82
11:44 25 January 2016
Wildlife conservationist, author and long-time Suffolk resident Roger Perry has died at the age of 82, following a short illness.
Mr Perry was born in Enfield, north London, and an early interest in wildlife and out-of-the-way places saw him visit some of the remotest parts of Europe, including the Alps, the Pyrenees and the mountains of Norway, while still a student at Enfield Grammar School.
Following service in the Army, he went to Christ’s College, Cambridge, from where he graduated with a masters degree in zoology in 1957. He then spent several months travelling with a group from his university in the Colombian Andes, climbing and studying plants.
After returning to the UK, he joined the BBC’s then recently-formed Natural History Unit in Bristol where he remained for four years before joining another expedition to South America, this time to the forests of the upper Amazon.
In 1964 he was appointed director of the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galapagos Islands, the archipelago off the coast of Ecuador whose unique wildlife contributed to the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
A major focus of the station’s conservation work was on the islands’ 10 surviving subspecies of giant tortoise (an 11th had already been reduced to a single individual, who became known worldwide as Lonesome George and who eventually died, still without a mate, in 2012.)
In many cases, the threat came from non-native species, introduced to the islands by man, preying on the tortoises’ eggs or young.
The strategy adopted was to dig up the eggs and incubate them artificially, with the young being kept at the station until they were strong enough to be released into the wild.
After leaving the islands in 1970, Mr Perry undertook three extensive journeys in Patagonia and he went on to produce three books based on his travels in South America: The Galapagos Islands (1972), Patagonia, Windswept Land of the South (1974) and Wonders of Llamas, part of the Wonders of... series for young readers (1977).
Following his marriage in 1974 Mr Perry and his wife, Shirley, came to live in Suffolk, initially at Bradfield St George, near Bury St Edmunds, and later at Orford, near Woodbridge.
His next overseas job, from 1977 to 1979, was as wildlife adviser, and later as district officer, on Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, now part of the Republic of Kiribati.
Despite being perhaps best known as a location for Britain’s early atomic bomb testing following the Second World War, Christmas and its neighbouring islands had important seabird colonies which, as in the Galapagos, were suffering from human activity and the introduction of non-native species.
A wildlife conservation unit established in 1977 involved the administration of five reserves offering legal protection for a total of 31 resident or migratory species of birds.
Mr Perry’s final overseas posting, from 1984 to 1989, was as administrator on the island of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, part of a British Overseas Territory also including the islands of St Helena and Ascension.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office role involved all aspects of government on the island, working alongside an elected Island Council and Chief Islander.
Shortly after returning to the UK from Tristan, Mr Perry and his wife moved from Suffolk to Devon where, besides exploring the Dartmoor countryside, usually on foot, he also wrote another book, Island Days (2000), which drew together the stories of his time in the Galapagos, Christmas Island and Tristan da Cunha.
Around ten years ago, the couple returned to Suffolk, settling at Wetheringsett, near Stowmarket, where Mr Perry took a keen interest in the history of the village.
This included active involvement in plans to mark the 400th anniversary of the geographer and writer Richard Hakluyt, who was rector of Wetheringsett from 1590 until his death in November 1616.
Roger Perry MA FRGS (Fellow, Royal Geographical Society) leaves his wife Shirley, her son Mark, who lives in New Zealand, and her daughter Amanda, a former journalist on the East Anglian Daily Times, whose husband, Duncan Brodie, is the EADT’s business editor.
There will be a private funeral, with a memorial service planned at a later date.