Absent friends and conservation giants

It is ten years today since we lost one of the country’s most effective and erudite conservation campaigners

STEPHEN WESTOBY WARBURTON 

1950 – 2004

1997 SWW, DPH & PCB ms - Copy

The image above shows Stephen ready to present evidence to a House of Commons Committee in 1998.

Today, we pay both tribute to Stephen and review how we continue to champion his style and the principles he practiced.  We can do no better than to re-iterate the words of the late Pete Bowler here.  We would also encourage any student of conservation to read the “Appreciation” of Stephen which featured in Volume 7 of the Forum’s papers.

Stephen did not seek public praise, but he did believe and practice  engagment with local people and in so doing so often empowered them to make a difference in their ‘own backyards’.  Examples of his unselfish dedication could be The River Derwent Navigation case which went to the High Court in 1984, see here where it even made the pages of the esteemed British Birds magazine.  See also the the blog post of 31 December 2013 where we mention the 1999 Preston Under Scar High Court case here.  The immense workload for that case alone would have tested many, but in parallel much would have been taking place around the same time in which the proposed ‘Denotification of Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI’  was being promoted by English Nature.  Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment at the time announced his relief at ENs decision here.  One is left wondering what would have been Stephen’s 21st Century case load ….

Stephen possessed both a passion and a committment to champion conservation of the English landscape and the natural environment.  He would try to collaborate and co-operate but if those endeavours failed he would underpinned any challenge with science.  It is that same modus operandi by which the Forum operate.

Volume 7 of the Forum’s Papers pretty much summed up the profile and the legacy we endeavour to maintain.  “Without Stephen, the fight for Thorne and Hatfield Moors might have remained a local skirmish with officialdom.”   Stephen approved of the Forum – a small group, light on its feet, unencumbered by bureaucracy and unafraid to get on with the job.

The issue now, given Government, its civil servants, politicians of all parties and advocates of development at all costs breakneck quest to cut red tape, is how collectively conservation deals with this.  As we wrote in Volume 7  “We might know what we should do, but without Stephen’s intellectual honesty and clarity, we might have ignored it, chosen an easier path, and failed in the endeavour.  His memory serves to keep us on the right track.” 

So, here’s a call to arms to those who remember Stephen, to those who care about the natural environment and the landscape, to safegurad it for our children’s children in perpetuity.  Stephen knew the late Wm Bunting, a stalwart of the early days of the ‘battle for the bogs’ and who often took a view that conservation amounted to a simple ‘NO’ and meaning it.  Such a stand did not sit well even in the early days and most definitely does not sit well today, an era of off-setting and eco-sytem service mitigation etc.

We also note, with sadness, the passing in December of last year of his Mother, Marion Warburton.  Mrs Warburton was a lovely lady and to Sarah her daughter and family we offer renewed thanks for the contribution that the family made to nature conservation in so many spheres and contexts through Stephen.

Simply, thank you and we miss you Stephen.

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