OBITUARY: Humphrey Mackworth-Praed

From an early age, Humphrey Mackworth-Praed was interested in the countryside and natural history.

His father was the naturalist C.W. Mackworth-Praed, and with his help Humphrey rapidly became an expert on butterflies and moths. His grandfather Colonel Stephenson Clarke owned the Borde Hill estate in West Sussex and in his boyhood Humphrey spent much time there appreciating the inspired work being carried out on developing the gardens and landscaping the extensive grounds.

He was born in 1919, and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he started a degree in Geology. He served during the Second World War in the Royal Engineers, being twice mentioned in dispatches, and after it joined the family firm, Francis & Praed, in the Stock Exchange.

In the 1950s, following the initiative of the Society for Promotion of Nature Reserves (later the Royal Society for Nature Conservation), there was a move to establish wildlife trusts at local level throughout Britain. Mackworth-Praed was one of the founders of the Surrey Wildlife Trust in 1959, and was instrumental in much of its successful development in the following years, becoming chairman of its conservation committee and later of the whole trust itself. It now manages some 30 nature reserves.

In 1972, Mackworth-Praed left Francis & Praed to become full-time conservation officer for the National Trust's Southern Region, a post which he held very successfully until his retirement 10 years ago. During the Seventies and Eighties he also served on the statutory Regional Advisory Committee advising the Forestry Commission's South-East England Conservancy (becoming chairman of that committee as well) and provided guidance during this period in which the commission was beginning to become more enrivonmentally oriented.

Humphrey Mackworth-Praed was successful partly because he was a great "persuader" in the nicest possible way. He was also prepared to get his hands dirty amongst a team of conservation volunteers - cutting scrub, erecting fences, digging ditches. He was greatly respected for his extensive knowledge of wildlife and practical ecology, about which he was, however, very modest.

Fortunately much of his work is described in his book Conservation Pieces, published in 1991. This provides sometimes discursive but always entertaining accounts, well illustrated with photographs, of a selection of his projects for the Surrey Wildlife Trust and for the National Trust - whether cutting steps up Box Hill to save damage to the chalk downland; pond-clearing on Headley Heath for the sake of the rare wild flower starfruit; improving the grassland habitats round Gilbert White's home village of Selborne, in Hampshire; or making an old railway tunnel near Chichester, in West Sussex, a haven for bats. There are also lyrical accounts of places he visited abroad, such as Tenerife (for its blue butterflies) or Lapland (to see the midnight sun), which bring home his genuine love of wildlife and the countryside.

Those of us lucky enough to have known Mackworth-Praed will remember him as a warm, kind and gentle person and as a wonderful companion in the field, both for his extensive knowledge and experience and for his unending collection of amusing anecdotes.

Rod Stern

Humphrey Winthrop Mackworth- Praed, naturalist: born London 30 November 1919; member, London Stock Exchange 1947-72; senior partner, Francis & Praed 1966-72; conservation officer, National Trust Southern Region 1972- 84, ecology consultant 1984-95; chairman, Regional Advisory Committee, South-East England Conservancy, Forestry Commission 1980-85; chairman, Surrey Wildlife Trust 1983-86; MBE 1988; married 1947 Penelope Tompson (two sons, three daughters); died Ashtead, Surrey 13 September 1995.