When news happens, text LT and your photos and videos to 80360. Or contact us by email or phone.
New RSPB boss discovered love of nature growing up in Burnley
GROWING up in Burnley when East Lancashire’s cotton industry was booming wouldn't seem the most obvious way to cultivate a love of nature.
But for Professor Steve Ormerod it was those days in the early sixties that inspired him to follow a career in ecology.
He now teaches in the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University and is the chairman of the RSPB Council, His days at Reedley Cricket club sowed the seed for his love of birds and the great outdoors.
“I grew up in a very urban part of the town when the cotton mills were around — but nature was never far away," said Steve, who’s father was a factory worker at Lucas. "One of my earliest memories is of being taken into a cotton mill by my grandfather, a weaver all his working life. By then, both he and the Lancashire cotton trade were in their last years but the clatter of looms and smell of raw cotton mingling with engine steam are as fresh in my mind as ever. Grown from coal and gritstone, this was Burnley — the largest 19th century producer of cotton-cloth anywhere on earth.”
The father-of-four remembers his brother teaching him to recognise house sparrows out of the bedroom window of his ‘two up two down’.
“Every dawn and dusk, I’d hear the rooks passing over our terraced house on their raucous commute between feeding and roosting in the local hospital grounds. My elder brother owned the ‘I-spy birds’ book, and so was an expert,” said Steve, who has published more than 200 scientific papers during his 26 year research career in ecology.
Steve took the 11-plus exam and got a place at Burnley Grammar School.
Years later he left his Basnett Street home and went to Huddersfield University and then to Cardiff, where he went on to settle down.
“When I eventually came to Cardiff, it was to learn about rivers and to enter the world of professional ecology," he said. "The parallels between South Wales and Lancashire, at that time, were large. Here was another industrial landscape hacked from hillsides that were unique, but also recognisable to me in their huge character,” he said.
Although nature has been blighted and global warming has taken its toll in many parts of the world, Steve says that some things have changed for the better.
“Lancashire’s River Brun was very thick and quite dirty as it was turned ochre by mine waste, but before that there were dippers, and once even the blue dart of a kingfisher. Now, because of better drainage, the river is back to how it was,” he said.
The RSPB Council is the governing body of The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and it is responsible for ensuring the society conducts its affairs in accordance with its constitution and with the law. With 200 reserves across the UK, there are 18 council members elected to ensure this happens.
Steve’s role as chairman involves meeting with the RSPB Council on a quarterly basis overseeing issues such as budget and planning.
He was the 2011 recipient of the Marsh Award for Marine and Freshwater Conservation. He is also a former chief editor of the Journal of Applied Ecology and past president of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management.
He is a past council member of the Freshwater Biological Association, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Rivers’ Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology. He also served on the scientific advisory committee of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust as well as several Defra committees, including the expert panel of the National Ecosystem Assessment.
With a Burnley accent as broad as it can be, Steve said the future was bright for nature lovers if future generations can be taught about its importance at an early age.
“Children today are divorced from nature," he said. "It’s all about going out and getting dirty, climbing trees and taking risks. So if they aren’t given the chance to explore any more then they won’t be able to appreciate and respect the outdoors and all that comes with it. A love for nature should be introduced at a young age.”