Monday, 13 April 2009

Bob Scott

By now, most of the birding community will know of the death, on March 29th, of Bob Scott from Priory Hill, St Neots. He visited the reserve one last time in March to catch the first chiff chaffs of spring and the last winter smew.

Those of you who didn't know him so well can read the obituary that appeared in the Guardian on Saturday (see below). There is another on the Cambridge Bird Club website.

I had the privilege of meeting Bob once or twice a year for about 20 years when I worked for the RSPB. Bob was the moving spirit behind every warden's conference I attended and he interviewed me for my best job ever; as Ranger Training Officer in the Seychelles.

Closer to home, he was involved in composing the Paxton Pits Management Plan and has been a great supporter for us all at Paxton. In his retirement, he has continued to promote birdwatching in a gruelling programme of lecture tours and he has carried on his international role as advisor to several BirdLife partners. The thing I will remember most was that he promoted birding as fun and treated the serious work of ornithology and bird conservation (they aren't the same) with the same enthusiasm and humour. It was all one thing to him. He was equally enthusiastic about the people involved. Many of us stayed at the Scott's house at some time or other. I'm proud to say I was one of Bob's team for a while.

I'd like to say a special word for Anne as, to most of us it was always "Bobandanne" (one word) and I know you will all join with me in sending her our love and support. She has always been there for us, and I'm sure that she will be surrounded by the many friends they have made of the years. All the same, we are here if you need us, Anne.

Guardian: Saturday 11th April 2009

Bob Scott, who has died aged 70 of cancer, was one of that select band of birders, ornithologists and conservationists who developed their passion for birds in the years after the second world war. During his lifetime, he first witnessed, then significantly contributed to, the growth of bird-watching from an esoteric pastime, pursued by a few keen devotees, into a mass-participation leisure activity enjoyed by millions.
Bearded and gregarious, Scott was known and liked by birders from all generations and backgrounds, many of whom met him at the annual British birdwatching fair in Rutland, where he was a regular fixture for more than 20 years. Always ready to engage in conversation, he retained a boyish enthusiasm for his pursuit, which helped to convert many people at home and abroad to the joys of birding.
During a career at the RSPB lasting almost 40 years, first as a warden and later as head of reserves management, he also made a significant contribution to the conservation of some of Britain's rarest birds and their habitats. In retirement, he continued to make his mark, this time internationally, having a major influence on conservation work in Africa, Italy and especially Bulgaria.
Born in Carshalton, Surrey, Scott attended Sutton county grammar school. But like so many youngsters at the time, his real education took place outdoors - first at the local birding hotspot of Beddington sewerage farm, and then on regular weekend visits to Dungeness bird observatory in Kent, a round-trip by bicycle of considerably more than 100 miles.
Dungeness was an exciting place to be in the 1950s, as the postwar generation of young birders gathered to observe migration and search for rare birds. By the end of the decade, Scott and his contemporaries had begun to travel further afield, and he was one of the finders of Britain's first northern waterthrush - a species of American wood-warbler - on St Agnes, Scilly, in autumn 1958.
But he kept returning to Dungeness, and after working for a short time at the Forestry Commission and the Natural History Museum, in 1960 he finally landed not just one dream job but two - as warden of both the Dungeness observatory and the RSPB reserve there.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Scott became one of the RSPB's best-known wardens, inspiring countless novice birders - including myself - and doing valuable conservation work. He also found no fewer than three more "firsts for Britain": the dark-eyed junco, from America, in 1960; Hume's warbler, a vagrant from central Asia, at nearby Beachy Head in 1966; and the short-toed treecreeper, from continental Europe, in 1969.
In 1975 he moved to Northward Hill reserve on the Thames marshes in Kent, where he met and married Ann, who was working at the RSPB's south-east regional office at the time. Equally sociable and outgoing, and herself a keen birder, she nevertheless recognised the depth of Scott's interest, remarking that "he absorbed birds like ink soaks into blotting paper". Together, they made a formidable team, jointly running training courses for bird ringers in Ghana, Rwanda and Burundi.
After spending virtually his whole working life in the field, it came as a surprise to some when, in 1979, he moved to the RSPB headquarters at Sandy in Bedfordshire, as reserve manager. He later took over the entire department, with responsibility for all of the society's 200 reserves.
Never a fan of bureaucracy, Scott made the job his own through sheer force of personality. He was always willing to find practical solutions to problems and gained a reputation as a straight-talking, inspirational communicator, whose enthusiasm was infectious. He also promoted the work of the RSPB, and helped popularise birding, through regular public talks and as leader of bird tours to destinations all over the world.
After he took early retirement in 1997, he and Ann continued their conservation work at home and abroad. In Bulgaria, a grateful government awarded him a medal for his efforts. He also joined other leading birders to save the journal British Birds, to which he contributed for almost 50 years.
Scott wrote several books, including The Birdwatcher's Key (1976) and The Birdwatcher's Calendar (1982). But his real legacy can be found at any RSPB reserve in the UK; not just the birds, but also those watching them, many of whom he inspired - either directly or indirectly - to take up birding. He is survived by Ann and two sons from his first marriage, which ended in divorce.
• Robert Ernest (Bob) Scott, ornithologist and conservationist, born 11 May 1938; died 26 March 2009