Obituary: Ernest Neal

WHEN Ernest Neal was surprised by a badger in a Gloucestershire wood on his way home after a moth-catching expedition, it was to change the course of his life. He determined to return on the following evening to watch the animals properly and so started an interest which was to remain with him for the rest of his days.

His was the first long-term scientific study of a British mammal which relied on direct observation and objective investigation and from it came his book, The Badger, published in 1948, the first monograph in the Collins "New Naturalist" series. It was a volume which has inspired tens of thousands of people, including me, to take an interest not only in badgers but in wildlife in general. By following Neal's advice, I found myself able to watch a nocturnal mammal and enter its life without its ever being aware of my presence.

Ernest Neal is best known for his link with badgers and that original book has been updated and rewritten several times as knowledge has improved and research techniques have been refined. The most recent edition, written in collaboration with Chris Cheeseman, was published in 1996. Neal was presented with the Stamford Raffles Award of the Zoological Society of London in 1956 for his badger work and, in 1960, was awarded a PhD for his research into badger reproductive biology. He served for over 15 years on the Consultative Panel of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on Badgers and Tuberculosis from its inception in 1975 and was recently asked to comment on the latest report on the problem by Professor John Krebs. Among the veterinarians and government scientists, he felt his was the only totally independent voice representing the interests of the badger.

Neal's interests were much wider than badgers however, and he was constantly fascinated by the complex inter- relationships in both the natural world and among people. He came from a Christian household (his father was a Baptist minister) and he always looked for the best in everyone he met, an attitude which gave him a very positive outlook on life. He was educated at Taunton School and London University and his first job, in 1936, was at Rendcomb College, Cirencester. In 1946 he moved to Taunton School, where he became Second Master and a housemaster before retiring in 1971.

His captivation with inter- relationships and eco-systems was something he was able to share not only through his teaching but also through writing, photography, film- making and television. In 1952, with Professor Humphrey Hewer, Neal began to make the very first film of wild badgers at night, a significant feat given the technology at the time. It was a work which required considerable dedication and took over three years to complete, using powerful lights to which the badgers had to become habituated. It was subsequently shown on television in 1954. During his lifetime, Neal took part in over 200 radio and television programmes.

Neal was one of the founder members of the Mammal Society, a unique blend of professional mammalogists and amateur enthusiasts. He believed strongly in the value of non-professional members and constantly promoted their interests, later giving substantial support to the establishment of a youth section, now called Mammalaction. He was to be the society's chairman for five years and later served for six years as its president; as such I first met him. In 1980 he was awarded the society's Silver Medal for his work on mammals and for the society. He also helped found the Somerset Trust for Nature Conservation, now the Somerset Wildlife Trust, and was its chairman for 14 years. In 1976 he was appointed MBE for his work on nature conservation in Somerset.

Ernest Neal's interests were by no means confined to Britain. In 1962 he was invited by Stephen Curry, a former pupil and an entomologist with the Kenya Forestry Department to visit East Africa. Neal took his wife Betty and combined it with a celebration of their silver wedding. In his own words, "Africa became an addiction." In the late Sixties he was invited to carry out research on banded mongooses in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda and spent four months discovering a great deal about their basic biology which was previously unknown. He made a further 21 visits, many of them as a guest lecturer for Swan Hellenic and Ecosafaris. Naturally his appetite for the way ecosystems work was fed to the full here and resulted in On Safari In East Africa - a background guide (1991).

This book was one of the fruits of what Neal called his "bonus years", for he very nearly lost his life after an operation on his lower back in 1986. For a man who enjoyed and valued the special relationships of his family, the subsequent move to share a home with the family of one of his sons in Bedford was of great importance. Here his study, with its collection of moths, its pictures and photographs of badgers and Africa and its many books, became an encapsulation of a full and active life dedicated to sharing his knowledge with others.

Ernest Gordon Neal, schoolmaster and biologist: born Boxmoor, Hertfordshire 20 May 1911; MBE 1976; married 1937 Elizabeth Thomson (three sons); died Bedford 5 April 1998.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Travel
Streets ahead: Venice
travelWhat's trending on your wishlist?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect