Friday, 2 October 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the Father of Wildlife Trust Conservation, Ted Smith

Ted, who has died at the age of 95, started work in conservation at the age of 38 in 1948 in the 'Lincolnshire Naturalists' Trust', with 129 members and £82 in the bank. The fact that today, the Wildlife Trusts number more than 800,000 members with over 2,000 nature reserves, is in no small measure down to his dedication, foresight, hard work and steely determination to conserve the land he had known and loved in his youth.

What you possibly didn't know about Ted, that he :

* was born in Arthur Edward Smith in 1920 in the market town of
Splisby, Lincolnshire and grew up eight miles to the north in Alford at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds, the son of Emma and Arthur, a plumber by trade, where his parents worked long hours and without holidays running a bakery and grocery shop and with his nearest sibling, his sister ten years his senior, spent much time on his own, exploring the countryside.

* later said : "I think I was conscious of birds in particular from quite an early age. The swifts nested under the eaves of old cottages and screamed over the rooftops in the evening always fascinated me. I took to roaming in the countryside with a cheap pair of binoculars and Coward's little 'British Birds' with Thorburn's illustrations, I became reasonably proficient as a bird watcher" and adopted the farmland lapwing, known locally as a 'pyewipe' as his favourite.

* was educated at the boys' grammar school in Alford, Queen Elizabeth’s, which had received its charter from the Queen 'for the Education, Instruction and bringing up of Children and Youth for ever' in 1576 and in the sixth form, at the age of 17, in the school summer holiday of 1937, cycled the 14 miles to Gibraltar Point and with his binoculars looked for terns on the lonely stretch of sand and salt marsh beyond Skegness and, surrounded by sky and sea, fell in love with the place and even then noted three 'gaudy new houses' on a road cut into the sand dunes, typical of the unrestrained development then enveloping the British coastline.

* later looked back on his teenage life in the 1930s and was pleased that he had "lived in the inter-war years because so much of the old tradition, the old way of life was still there" : and after matriculation from school, joined Leeds University as an undergraduate studying English Literature in 1938 and on the outbreak of the Second World War, the following year, was excused armed service on medical grounds due to jaundice and a suspected heart condition and during the War was profoundly affected by the death of  his friend, Peter Stocks, a gifted bird artist, killed while serving in the RAF.

* graduated with a first class degree in 1941, obtained a Masters degree then worked as a secondary school teacher in Leeds and then Norfolk, where he visited the country's first Wild Life Trust which had saved habitats by purchasing land and in 1948 at the age of 28 returned to his native Lincolnshire having secured a post as a tutor in adult education and began his work as a conservationist.

* was convinced that a new model for conservation was needed and later recalled : "The popular idea of a nature reserve in 1948 was of a place that you put a fence around and kept people out, but Gibraltar Point had to be different. We knew there was free open access for people anyway, so we had to reconcile conservation with access, but it also gave an enormous opportunity to interest people, to provide facilities for research and study and so on."

* founded the 'Lincolnshire Naturalists' Trust' in 1948 and in the same year, having met Mary Goddard, a botanist, on a trip to the Welsh island of Skokholm, proposed a few weeks later at Gibraltar Point and married in 1949, the year in which he moved quickly with his fledgling group to enlist the support of Lincolnshire County Council to thwart a proposal to build more than 800 bungalows which threatened its beauty and habitat.

* worked to ensure that the concept of a 'Local Nature Reserve' in England declared by a Local Authority was written into the post-War Labour Government's 1949 'National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act', a designation which recognised its special significance as a new type of reserve

* was gratified that : "By 1952 the Gibraltar Point Reserve was flourishing and was widely regarded nationally as a model of its kind. Schools and universities were using it for teaching and research and the number of visitors was already in the tens of thousands. It was a fitting recognition of its success that in August 1952 it became the first Local Nature Reserve in England."

* had witnessed the loss of familiar landscapes and their wildlife during the War, when the need to be self-sufficient in food had meant that hay meadows were ploughed up and ancient hedgerows removed, to grow crops and feed livestock and the after the War saw the use of chemical pesticides such as DDT, enable farmers to produce more and more cheap food for consumers, but at a heavy cost to birds, mammals and insects, poisoned in their millions and also the encroachment of the countryside by more homes, factories and roads.

* in 1954, at the age of 34, addressed his Trust's Annual Meeting with a surprising message : many naturalists, he argued, were indifferent to the great wave of destruction instigated by industrial agriculture and this must be fought by new County Conservation Groups whose members would be drawn from a wider section of society than the elitist natural history societies of the day and later recognised that despite the fact that : "the movement grew, slowly, through the 50s and 60s. It was a very exciting time and a very rewarding time."

* fought in Lincolnshire to save unspoiled coast, ancient meadows and heaths and to halt the destruction of native woodland, campaigned to save roadside flowers from being sprayed with chemicals, pressed for legislation to protect otters and extended his influence beyond Lincolnshire by touring persuading others to set up their own county conservation groups inspiring them to purchase land and gain community support and as a result saw Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire set up Wildlife Trusts in 1956, Surrey in 1959 and Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in 1960.

* orchestrated discussions between the new Trusts and got them to agree that they needed a national association and  saw the 'Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves' hold its first national conference in Skegness in 1960.

* in the 1970s had acquired a powerful friend and ally in Britain's best-known wildlife broadcaster, David Attenborough, who recalled that in the field : "He was very unobtrusive, very quiet, but very, very determined. We went of to various reserves. I soon learnt the thing to do was stick alongside Ted because he would see things quicker than most people and certainly quicker than me and what's more he'd recognise them. He was an expert field naturalist" and who also opened the new visitor centre at Gibraltar Point in 1974 :

* had found his own trust was powerless in 1963, when one haven for rare plants, the Lincolnshire, Waddingham Common, was ploughed up by a local farmer, encouraged by a handsome Government grant of £12 an acre and often had to watch helplessly as one Government department undid the work of another, allowing development on what were supposed to be 'protected sites' and realised that local trusts needed to join together to influence Government policy at the highest level and began the process of creating a national movement for wildlife, which culminated in him becoming General Secretary of 'The Wildlife Trusts' at the age of 55 in 1975.

* in 2012 at the age of 92 was presented by David Attenborough, Vice President and former President of 'The Wildlife Trusts', with a sculptured lapwing award at the premiere of the documentary film : ‘The Wildlife Trusts: 100 years of nature conservation’ who said : "I am delighted to have this opportunity to demonstrate our appreciation of Ted’s profound impact on the first 100 years of nature conservation. Ted is quite exceptional and, I believe, is the living person who has made the biggest single contribution to The Wildlife Trusts Movement. Generations to come are going to benefit more than they will know. This countryside of Britain may not be as rich as Ted knew it as a child in the 1920s and 30s but it is immeasurably better than it would otherwise have been without him and The Wildlife Trusts. I believe that work will continue and be increasingly important to all of us living in this beautiful but crowded archipelago."

* had his service to Britain recognised when made an OBE for 'Services to Nature Conservation' in 1963, advanced to CBE in 1998, the year he also received an Honorary Doctorate of Science at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside and was the first recipient of the 'Christopher Cadbury Medal for Service to Nature Conservation'.

* had been paid tribute by David Attenborough with :

"He understood, to a degree that verged on the magical, the diplomacies needed to coordinate and energise organisations"

What better epitaph might an old, pioneering conservationist  have ?

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see people finding out about and remembering him (he was my Grandpa) and his dedication to our natural world, a dedication which is as necessary as ever amongst those he's left behind. Thanks for this :)