Nature lovers mourn inspirational figure Derek Moore

Derek Moore, former director of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, at Redgrave and Lopham Fen

Derek Moore, former director of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, at Redgrave and Lopham Fen - Credit: Archant

Tributes were paid yesterday to a “towering figure” in British nature conservation who has died, leaving behind an “extraordinary legacy of achievement”.

Derek Moore, director of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, looking for birds in the reedbeds at Henham

Derek Moore, director of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, looking for birds in the reedbeds at Henham

Derek Moore, who became one of the most influential figures in the shaping of modern wildlife protection and appreciation, died in hospital in Carmarthen, Wales, after a long illness. He was 71.

Beccles-born Mr Moore rose to the top of the UK’s environmental movement in a career that mirrored – and helped to fuel – nature conservation’s rise to the lofty position it holds today in the public consciousness.

The former director of Suffolk Wildlife Trust has been credited with masterminding the charity’s impressive transformation from a relatively modest organisation into one of the most respected nature conservation bodies in Britain.

He moved on to head up the conservation department of what was to become known as The Wildlife Trusts, the umbrella organisation that unites all 47 UK wildlife trusts, and then continued his high-flying conservation career as leader of what became The Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales. He retired in 2004 and continued to live in Wales, in the remote village of Salem, Carmarthenshire.

Pursuing a lifelong dedication to natural history that was spurred on by a legendary Suffolk ornithologist, schoolteacher GBG “Chris” Benson, whom he met when he attended the Sir John Leman Grammar School in Beccles after he passed his Eleven Plus exam, Mr Moore became an epitome of the new breed of naturalist-conservationist – passionate, driven and doggedly determined to protect nature against any threat it faced.

He was awarded an OBE for services to nature conservation in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list in 1999. It was an honour that gave him a sense of pride that he sometimes joked just pipped the thrill he felt when he won the coveted Bird Brain of Britain title in a fiercely-fought quiz competition at the British Birdfair at Rutland Water the following year.

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Among many tributes yesterday was one from Julian Roughton, the chief executive of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, which now has a membership of 26,000 and is based at Brooke House, Ashbocking, near Ipswich.

“Derek was a larger-than-life character who transformed Suffolk Wildlife Trust in his 14 years as director (a post he held from 1985 to 1999),” said Mr Roughton.

“Derek’s ambition to safeguard wildlife was boundless and as Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s director he raised its profile hugely as well as its membership, its number of nature reserves and its influence across the county.

“Derek’s impact went well beyond Suffolk. He promoted the cause of environmental education in its very early days and led the way in opening up nature reserves to people at a time when many conservation organisations restricted access to permit-holders.

“Above all, he saw the vital importance of engaging farmers in conservation.

“Derek was passionate about wildlife – and his passion inspired many people working in conservation today. Suffolk’s wildlife has lost a great champion but he leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of achievement.”

Mr Moore’s engagement with the agricultural community was also hailed by his long-time friend and Suffolk farmer David Barker, whose family farm at Westhorpe, near Stowmarket, is acclaimed as an exemplar in wildlife-friendly agriculture.

“Derek built bridges with the farming community,” he said. He had played an important role in shaping national agri-environment policies in the 1990s as a key member of a small group of farmers and naturalists in Suffolk who had seen that there “had to be a better way than just relying on set-aside,” said Mr Barker.

“Derek was a towering figure in nature conservation, iconic when it comes to wildlife and the countryside – you just cannot replace someone like him. His enthusiasm for wildlife in general, and birds in particular, had no boundaries.

“When he became director of the county wildlife trust it was a modest organisation in a pretty antiquated building in Saxmundham. Over his 14 years with it he helped to transform it into one of the most influential and widely respected wildlife trusts in the UK.

“I would say the county has lost one of its finest-ever ambassadors for wildlife conservation but he leaves a legacy of which we can all be proud. He was an inspiration and a great campaigner and we owe it to him to carry on those campaigns for conservation into the future,” Mr Barker added.

Steve Piotrowski, president of the Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group and the Waveney Bird Club, said birdwatchers throughout East Anglia and beyond would be mourning the loss of a “great enthusiast who had an amazing ornithological knowledge that was coupled with incredible drive and determination.”

He had played a key role in moving Suffolk ornithology “to its current peak”. One of his legacies would be the success of Landguard Bird Observatory, near Felixstowe, of which he was a co-founder in the 1980s. “We have lost a great friend, a great naturalist and a great driving force for nature conservation but we have also lost a great human being with a marvellous sense of humour who was a legendary raconteur with innumerable stories that were a joy to listen to. Many people will be very saddened by his passing and wildlife has lost a great ally,” added Mr Piotrowski.

Mr Moore, leaves a widow, Beryl, a son, Jeremy, a daughter, Bronwen, three grandchildren – Morris, Tara and Holly – a brother, John, and a sister, Janet. Arrangements for his Humanist funeral have yet to be finalised and a memorial service is also expected to he held.

When Derek Moore wrote his autobiography last year, not one but two leading nature campaigners wrote forewords.

Chris Packham and Bill Oddie both stepped up with glowing testaments to Mr Moore – a clear indication of the reverence in which he is held in environmental circles.

Mr Oddie wrote: “To me Derek has been a minder, a mentor and a mate. I am happy to say that he is on my team (and vice versa).

“He is also on Nature’s team, and Nature has reason to be grateful.”

Mr Packham wrote: “Derek has spent a lot of time ‘fixing’ wildlife and he has done it determinedly. He likes getting on with it. People don’t always respect and enjoy this approach – they think it’s aggressive, and perhaps they’d rather be having another cappuccino or a flat white, whatever that is. I don’t have Derek down as a coffee-morning talker, I have him down as a straight-talking top-rate conservationist.”

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