Obituary: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell, ornithologist, writer and broadcaster, born Southsea Hampshire 15 June 1912, married 1938 Margaret Gibson-Hill (two sons, one daughter), died Witney Oxfordshire 9 January 1993.

BRUCE CAMPBELL exemplified in his life, more strikingly perhaps than anyone else, the transition from the 19th-century naturalist - a collector and sportsman in equal measure - to the scientific, conservation-orientated naturalist of today. A fluent, gifted and humorous writer, a good organiser, and a lively, amusing speaker, he was a major influence - through his writing, his work for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and his broadcasting - in promoting the public interest in birds and environmental matters that is essential if there is to be any future for the natural world.

His close association with his father, an army officer and keen birds-nester and egg-collector who later became the army's Inspector of Physical Training, set the course of his life. His early years were spent mainly in Hampshire, where under his father's tuition and with his own native flair he began to acquire the extraordinary skill in finding nests that was one of his hallmarks - a skill now conspicuously lacking in many otherwise able ornithologists. I remember a day in the Forest of Dean in the 1950s, when after helping him to check the Pied Flycatchers nesting in boxes which he studied for many years, I walked with him through the woods and, by casually tapping the vegetation with his stick and poking about, he found in perhaps 40 minutes two or three nests each of Wood Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler, even one of which I would have been quite pleased to have found in a season.

His school years at Winchester seemed to have been most memorable for the days off when he was able to roam far afield, looking for nests - and not only nests; his interests were wide, embracing plants and insects. The highlights were holidays in Argyll, where his parents had moved on his father's retirement - 'The place I have looked on as 'home' for nearly 60 years'. It was at Winchester, however, that a more scientific interest in birds began to develop. A lecture by the explorer and naturalist Tom Longstaff on the Oxford expedition to Greenland described Max Nicholson's pioneering mapping of territories of breeding birds, and made him realise that 'there is something you could do with nests other than emptying them'. All this and much else - for Campbell was a meticulous diarist and record keeper - is recounted in his autobiographical Birdwatcher at Large (1979).

A degree in forestry at Edinburgh University, where he still indulged his taste for wildfowling and rough shooting, was followed by temporary work in forestry, various part-time jobs, and finally a post with the Central Council for Recreative Physical Training (CCRPT), a London-based organisation with countrywide activities.

In 1939 he moved to Cardiff, organising the CCRPT's activities in Wales, and while doing so began in his spare time to carry out a detailed study of the bird population of farmland, which eventually developed into a Ph D thesis, the first Ph D in Britain to be gained for ornithological fieldwork.

This qualification, not so common in those days, was fortunately timed. While he was writing it up, he was invited by James Fisher to join a small group of naturalists on an aerial count of grey seal pups which, being white, are conspicuous from the air, round the coasts of Britain. The exercise, though unsuccessful as a census, helped to establish Campbell's contacts with influential ornithologists, and to his being invited soon after, in 1948, to be the first full-time secretary of the rapidly expanding BTO.

During his 10 years at the BTO, Campbell was responsible for its continuing development as a nationwide team of amateur enthusiasts working under the guidance of a small number of professionals and carrying out surveys, population monitoring, and special ad hoc studies that were to make British bird populations the most thoroughly known in the world, and would provide the scientific basis for government policies. He also began to be a regular broadcaster, and after leaving the BTO spent three years as senior producer at the BBC's Natural History Unit at Bristol. Later, he joined the staff of the Countryman on a part-time basis, and continued with a varied programme of writing and broadcasting, finding time also to edit the massive and authoritative Dictionary of Birds (1985) for the British Ornithologists' Union. His summing up was characteristically modest. He confessed that: 'birdwatching to me has always been a sport rather than an art or even a science, though, of course, a scientific structure can be built on it'.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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 People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US