Professor Simon Thirgood: Ecologist and conservationist who worked extensively in Africa and upland Britain

Simon Thirgood, an authority on wild deer and birds of prey, was one of Scotland's best-known conservationists. He was the author, with Stephen Redpath, of a landmark report on birds of prey and red grouse which proved that hen harriers can, under some circumstances, ruin the commercial value of a grouse moor. The debate had damaged relations between moorland owners and conservationists. Thirgood took a characteristically pragmatic and positive line by pioneering a way of resolving the conflict by providing alternative food for the harriers.

Thirgood worked at the Macaulay Institute near Aberdeen, the UK's leading research centre on land-use and the environment. He was a teacher and research ecologist with great experience of conservation biology in Africa and in upland Britain, and the author of more than 100 scientific papers on deer, mountain hares and moorland management, birds of prey and conservation problems in Africa, including the endangered Ethiopian wolf.

Beyond that he was both a natural leader and a generous collaborator who was always in demand. He was senior editor of the Journal of Applied Ecology and co-editor of an influential book, People and Wildlife: Conflict or Co-existence? (2005). Latterly he was seconded part-time to the Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability, in charge of an EU-funded project on sustainable hunting in Europe and Africa.

His contribution to ecological science, especially the training of PhD students, both in Scotland and Africa, was rewarded by an Honorary Professorship at the University of Glasgow. In all his work his guiding principle was the resolution of conflict through the application of sound and pragmatic scientific principles.

Simon Thirgood was born in Monrovia, Liberia where his father, Jack Thirgood, worked as a forester. Within a few years the family moved to Vancouver, Canada where Thirgood senior was made head of forestry at the University of British Columbia. Having grown up in Northumberland near the Scottish Border, and become convinced of the superiority of the Scottish educational system, his father insisted that Simon attend Aberdeen University. He graduated with a degree in zoology and went on to study for a PhD at Southampton University on the "Alternative Mating Strategies of Fallow Deer". After three years, he was said to be able to recognise every fallow buck in the nearby New Forest and call them by name.

Thirgood went on to work for a number of conservation organisations including the Cambridge-based Birdlife International, where his work on "Putting Biodiversity on the Map" proved valuable in the run-up to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. He then returned to Scotland to work for the then Game Conservancy Trust, based at Langholm in Galloway, where he and his friend Stephen Redpath produced their well-known report on grouse moors, Birds of Prey and Red Grouse (1997).

While there he met his future wife, Karen Laurenson, a graduate veterinarian who was then working on tick-born disease in grouse. Both loved Africa, where Karen had gained her PhD on the behaviour and ecology of cheetahs. They managed to land a joint three-year assignment with the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and set off, with their two baby daughters, to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. There Simon was in charge of various projects promoting conservation within the framework of local sustainability and prosperity both there and in neighbouring countries. In the evening, at their home in the Park, they would sit on the patio and watch hyena drinking from a waterhole.

As their girls approached school age, Simon and Karen returned to Scotland, where the former was made head of ecology at the Macaulay Institute. While still an undergraduate, Simon had been a keen climber, and had shinned up some of the most challenging routes in the Cairngorms, including the formidable Djibangi and the Grey Slab. Much of his spare time in Scotland was spent with his family cycling, climbing, skiing and canoeing.

Thirgood's friend and mentor, Professor Ian Newton, described him as "an outstanding field ecologist, equally at home with birds and with mammals". He was an inspiring role model for ecologists at the start of their career who shared his energetic "get-up-and-go" spirit. He was a good, if sometimes caustic, judge of others' work, and was generous with help and advice. He was also highly articulate, often amusing, and deeply caring about wildlife, society, and, above all, his family and friends. He enjoyed the company of children, "playing the pied piper", as a friend expressed it, organising games and introducing them to the great outdoors.

Especially in his latter years, Thirgood was increasingly concerned by the need to foster better educational opportunities in the developing world. He saw the importance of integrating the social and natural sciences if the problems of growing population and shrinking wild places are to be met. He was in Ethiopia setting up a project funded by the UK Darwin Initiative when he was killed when a building collapsed during a storm.

Peter Marren

Simon Thirgood, ecologist and conservation biologist; born Monrovia, Liberia 6 December 1962; married 1996 Karen Laurenson (two daughters); died Ethiopia 30 August 2009.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Life and Style
Stepping back in time: The Robshaws endured the privations of the 1950s
food + drinkNew BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?