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One Man: Our Wildlife in Trust

Posted: Tuesday 11th November 2014 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger

Derek Moore - far left - with Prince Philip, Marek Borkowski and Koniks at Redgrave

Former Suffolk Wildlife Trust Director Derek Moore received an OBE for services to nature conservation in 1999, the same year he was made Director of Conservation for The Wildlife Trusts. Derek was appointed as Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trust for South & West Wales in 2001, until he retired in 2004. Derek died on 23 October 2014 after a long illness. Lucy McRobert remembers him...

His energy was boundless, his tongue sharp, his views controversial, but his manner exceedingly kind and generous

Not everyone always agreed with Derek Moore OBE.  He entered the British nature conservation movement at a time when the protection of wildlife was purely in the hands of government legislation and secluded nature reserves – attitudes that at the time were necessary, even visionary, but would soon become outdated.  Nature reserves were not the haunt, as they are now, of families, birdwatchers, naturalists - indeed a high proportion of the general public - but rather a few vetted scientists: permit only.  Effective management wasn’t understood, access was exclusive.  Derek didn’t agree with this, so, along with others, he changed it. 

I first met Derek in 2011, at the British Birdwatching Fair.  He was charismatic, witty, endlessly a performer, and obviously highly respected by the Birdfair staff, visitors and volunteers alike.  His energy was boundless, his tongue sharp, his views controversial, but his manner exceedingly kind and generous.  He was the man I was to write my undergraduate history dissertation on.

Over the next 10 months, I visited Derek and spoke to him several times on the telephone, drawing out his thoughts and feelings on his career, the major milestones and his views on current nature conservation policy.  His memories were rich and detailed, and together we selected three stories from his career in Suffolk, his home county, that best demonstrated his profound impact on nature conservation, both local and national.

The second half of the twentieth century saw conservation driven forward by a series of strong characters – mavericks even – coupled with the expansion and professionalisation of the various NGOs, including The Wildlife Trusts, which really came into their own in this time: this included the improvement of several existing Wildlife Trusts, the creation of others, and bringing into the fold existing county societies for nature conservation.

It also included new management techniques: habitat creation. The ‘Scrape’ was a concept pioneered at the RSPB’s Minsmere Nature Reserve that involved scraping away reeds to expose brackish mud beneath, perfect for breeding waders.  Islands were modelled using farm sacks and gravel, and quirky techniques used to measure success: the gravity of the area was measured using a beer-maker's hydrometer!  The original Minsmere scrape was dreamt up by a controversial character, Bert Axell (then warden), and was dug over 12 years by a team of volunteers, including a young Derek Moore. This was his first introduction to British conservation.

Derek re-joined the movement as the first Director of Suffolk Wildlife Trust in 1985.  He wanted to make nature accessible and enjoyable for all; his vision was to reach out to the public for support by actively publicising nature reserves as places of leisure.  The ‘Open Reserves Policy’ was first drawn up in 1985, and included not only opening reserves but also advertising them and providing interpretation to enhance the visitor experience.  The effects of the Open Reserve Policy were instantaneous and at its highest point during Moore’s career membership stood at nearly 14,000, almost double what they had been when he arrived.

The final chapter of Derek’s Suffolk career centred on Redgrave and Lopham Fen (pictured below); consisting of 402 acres of re-established fenland, this fragile habitat (home of the rare Fen Raft Spider) has long relied on ‘conservation grazing’ for effective management.  Derek was the first to introduce a foreign breed of animal – namely the Polish Konik Pony (see picture above) – to Britain for the purposes of reserve management, demonstrating the need for international cooperation in nature conservation, and revolutionising wetland management techniques.  The Koniks were a highly effective addition and soon other organisations were using them as their preferred species, including the Norfolk Broads Authority, the RSPB and English Nature.

These broadminded ideas demonstrate the daring, intelligence and innovation needed to further nature conservation in the latter half of the twentieth century. Derek Moore possessed all of these qualities and more.  My dissertation, before editing down to 10,000 words, reached over double that, and I had only touched upon a tiny part of Derek’s career; he went on in the following years to run The Wildlife Trusts as the Director (from 1999 to 2001) and then moved to Wales, at the age of 58, continuing to work with the Trusts at a local level.

Derek stayed in Wales, with his wife Beryl, after his retirement.  It was to the heart of Wales that I travelled to interview him and where he showed me my first brambling and nuthatch on his garden feeders.  His passion for birds and wildlife was never lost.  

Sadly, I’ll never get to ask Derek about the rest of his career.  He died aged 71, after a long illness, on 23 October 2014.

Few people have influenced my own career so profoundly, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.  A cloud hangs over conservation for now, having lost one of our great defendants, but we mustn’t spend too long in sadness: after all, as Derek said - to Stephen Moss - before he died, ‘there’s still so much left to do.’

Redgrave and Lopham Fen

Above: Redgrave & Lopham Fen (photo: Steve Aylward)

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