Bob Burrow

Saviour of Jersey's Agile Frog

Bob Burrow lived in the island of Jersey for all 56 years of his life. Apart from a few business trips, the furthest he strayed was to the tiny islet of Burhou, off Alderney, to ring sea-birds. In the best traditions of island living, he could turn his hand to almost anything. He was, over the course of a busy life, a fisherman, fitter, roofer, businessman, honorary policeman and bookseller. He was also one of Jersey's busiest and most accomplished field naturalists.

Perhaps Burrow's best memorial will be his single-handed efforts to save one of Jersey's rarest and most attractive wild creatures, the Agile Frog. So-named because it can leap six feet from a stationary position, by the 1980s the frog was in danger of extinction after its few breeding ponds had become polluted or overgrown. As if that were not bad enough, the frog was also menaced by hungry ducks. Thanks to well-meaning people feeding them titbits, the island's feral ducks had increased to plague proportions and were eating most of the spawn and tadpoles before they could turn into frogs.

Realising this, Burrow took practical steps to help the frog. Over several years he removed some of the spawn from the remaining ponds and reared the tadpoles through their most vulnerable stage before returning them to the wild. He called the process "headstarting". Similar attempts by a later, more formal frog conservation group lacked Burrow's magic touch and were less successful. Fortunately Burrow had continued to "headstart" the beleaguered frogs. From teetering at the brink of extinction, the current outlook for the frog is now "cautiously optimistic".

Burrow's way with wild animals was often remarked on. He had a gentleness and obvious empathy which showed itself in the way he handled the birds he was ringing - another, lifelong passion. Many would-be ringers never quite get the knack. Burrow had it from his teens, and went on to ring thousands of birds, especially sea-birds, helping ornithologists to unravel the secrets of bird movements and migration.

His knowledge of birds showed in another way after gulls and pigeons roosting and nesting on houses and other buildings in St Helier had become a serious public nuisance. Burrow surveyed the town, noting where they were nesting. He then became a professional nest-remover in a rooftop world reminiscent of Mary Poppins, charged with the task of persuading the birds to nest somewhere else. Characteristically, when he saw the state of St Helier's rooftops, he set himself up in a new business - as a roof repairer.

Although he was an expert on the birds, as well as the butterflies and moths, of the island, Burrow was a self-taught naturalist. He was educated at De La Salle College and St George's School, but left at the age of 16 after his father developed polio and the family needed another breadwinner. He joined the Jersey New Waterworks company, where his grandfather and namesake had been general manager and where his father Keith had worked as a chemist. But, though he joined the ranks as a general handyman, welder and fitter in the desalination plant, Burrow felt uncomfortable with the ambiguities of his position and soon decided to set up his own business.

He enjoyed fishing and owned several small boats, which brought in a modest income. He went into business as a wholesale supplier of shellfish to France and other European countries. However, his honest and easy-going ways were at loggerheads with the increasingly ruthless and aggressive methods of larger companies. He eventually turned instead to supplying fishing equipment, such as rope, nets and navigational gear.

Over 20 years, Bob Burrow served as a volunteer in Jersey's Honorary Police, rising to become first a centenier (a title derived from its ancient responsibility for 100 families in the parish), and finally as chef de police for the parish of St Clement, where he deputised for the connétable, the senior citizen of the civil parish. The work provided opportunities for Burrow's impish sense of humour. Giving a lift to some friends to the harbour terminal in his police car, he opened the passenger door and roared in a voice that could be heard from Guernsey, "And now you two, get out of the island and don't come back!"

Finally, in 1990 he began dealing in secondhand books, initially as a postal business but then renting a former butcher's shop on a main road just outside St Helier. There he stocked some 40-50,000 titles, and Books and Things became one of the largest antiquarian book dealers in the Channel Islands.

Burrow combined his love of books and natural history by specialising in the New Naturalist library published by Collins since 1945. His stock of these iconic, richly illustrated and, in some cases, rare and expensive books was probably the largest in the world. Arranged in their gleaming jackets on cases over two walls of the bookshop, they made a stunning impact on visitors. Again, combining business with pleasure, he started a New Naturalist collector's book club in 1999. Its newsletter, produced at erratic intervals over the year, advertised forthcoming additions to the series, exchanged information on rare editions and posted wants and exchange lists from its 500-odd members.

A very active, hands-on naturalist, Burrow was a lifelong member of the Société Jersiaise, which he represented on the St Ouen's Bay Preservation Committee. He helped to build up the Jersey branch of the RSPB and its Young Ornithologists' Club. He served for a while on the Lands Committee of the National Trust for Jersey. And he was also a trustee of the Jersey Ecology Fund, which used settlement funds from the Amoco Cadiz tanker disaster of 1978 to fund wildlife conservation projects.

In 1994 Burrow attempted to persuade the authorities to let him convert a wartime tunnel in St Catherine into an aquarium displaying local species of fish as well as all the island's reptiles and amphibians. Although the plans were approved by the island's development committee, local opposition to them led to his withdrawing the application.

In recent months, Burrow had been planning to convert a derelict farm into an interpretative centre on the island's wildlife. It was to have become a key part of his wider vision to make Jersey a leader in combining farming with conservation and encourage more naturalists to visit the island.

In 1978 Bob Burrow met and married Sarah Mescall, a talented croquet and hockey player. Their son, Matthew, is now one of the world's highest-rated croquet players. In time Bob, too, developed into a useful player, though he never quite matched the proficiency of his wife and son. He also played a very decent game of bowls, and was always in demand to complete a team.

Burrow never lost his cheerful and essentially sunny disposition. He was generous, friendly and transparently honest. His catchphrase was "Yes, I'll do that for you, my love". Jersey has lost an enterprising and trusty islander, as well as one of its most prominent green citizens.

Peter Marren

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices