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Lives Remembered: John Burkett


My husband John Burkett, who has died aged 82, was an engineer, falconer and an expert in wildlife rehabilitation. He wasn't that good at timekeeping, considering that he had wound and looked after the church clock at Hough-on-the–Hill for 10 years. Now he will be buried in the churchyard there on 28 June.

John was born in Eltham in 1929 and developed a fascination with flying when he visited injured pilots at Tunbridge Wells hospital, where he had been evacuated during the war. Later he took a short-service commission in the RAF, leaving to work on The Comet, afterwards moving to the RAE to work on the Blue Streak Project, before working as an agricultural engineer.

John was blessed with an enquiring mind, which was nurtured at the emergency school he attended in Deptford, resulting in his love of the arts. Summer visits to Somerset and Chubworthy Farm triggered a fascination in country life, wildlife and the environment which influenced the rest of his life.

We met at college, and together we worked in the rescue, repair and rehabilitation of wild creatures, dealing with anything from the killer whale caught in fishing nets to rescuing young peregrines from cliffs after the dead adults had been found. The cost of dealing with seabirds after the Torrey Canyon disaster left financial problems, necessitating a move to Lincolnshire. We advised on many occasions: an oiling incident on the American beaches, for example, or advising on diet for animals born in captivity, such as the panda born in a Spanish zoo.

One story John liked to tell was of the badger which was, in theory, rehabilitated to the wild, only to receive a phone call from a lady, who, while entertaining her WI friends to tea, found a badger joining them. On arrival, John found the ladies huddled in a corner while the badger picked the ham out of the sandwiches. The hardest part of any rehabilitation work is always returning creatures to the wild; the badger had been released for 10 months. This year marks the 60th anniversary of our charity.

John was a keen falconer, a member of the British Falconry Club for almost 60 years, past President of the Hawking Club of Great Britain, Chairman of LAND (Lincs and Notts Against Nuclear Dumping), a committee member of Cranwell Aeronautical Society, a pianist, organist and a gentleman, whose sense of fun and mischief was never far away. He is survived by myself, his son St John, daughter Sophie, and two grandchildren, Seth and Kizzie.

Molly Burkett

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