Obituary: L. Hugh Newman
Monday 01 February 1993
I FIRST came face to face with L. Hugh Newman during the summer of 1961, in the middle of a wood. I was stalking a dragonfly with a camera, and he was pursuing a butterfly with a net - we almost collided at the junction of two paths. Thus started a close business relationship which lasted some 20 years, and a friendship which continued till his death.
Hugh Newman was one of the last old-style professional naturalists. He had no degrees or qualifications, he just loved nature, particularly butterflies and moths. It seemed quite logical for Hugh Newman to become professionally involved in natural history, as his father, Leonard Newman, was an acknowledged entomologist and started Britain's first butterfly farm, in 1894. In due course Hugh Newman took it over. The farm was run from a somewhat dilapidated Victorian terraced house in Bexley, Kent. Muslin-covered cages were filled with exotic butterflies and giant silk moths, cardboard boxes bristled with caterpillars. Fascinated schoolchildren spent their pocket money on caterpillars or stick insects to take back home to rear. Newman was always ready to share his knowledge and experience with children, and his infectious enthusiasm must have done much to turn some of his young audience into lifelong nature lovers.
Among Newman's clients was Winston Churchill, who periodically bought butterflies from the farm so that they could be released in his garden at Chartwell. As early as the late Forties and early Fifties, Newman and Churchill were bemoaning the decline of the butterfly population. Newman advised him to encourage weeds and nettlebeds.
Hugh Newman was best-known to the public through BBC radio. Together with the help of two other celebrated naturalists of the day, Peter Scott and James Fisher, Newman started Nature Parliament in the mid-Fifties, a popular and long-running programme where a panel of experts on animals and plants answered questions sent in by listeners.
Newman wrote numerous articles for magazines and newspapers, including the Guardian, Country Life, the Field and the Countryman, about butterflies and ways of encouraging them into the garden - much of his writing done long before our environmentally conscious age. He also wrote several books including Butterfly Farmer (1954), Create a Butterfly Garden (1967), Hawk Moths of Great Britain and Europe (1965), Living with Butterflies (1967), Man and Insects (1965) and Ants from Close-up (1967).
But Hugh Newman's most enduring achievement is the founding of the Natural History Photographic Agency (now better known as NHPA), a library of nature photographs. Like most things, it evolved from a modest beginning. One of the problems which arose from his writing and that of his wife (Moira Savonius, who wrote on gardening topics) was the difficulty in finding suitable illustrations to accompany their texts. Quick to explore a new market, he encouraged amateur photographers (of which I was one) to provide pictures for use in their growing number of articles and books. It was not long before they were serving publishers and editors elsewhere. Within a few years the demand for pictures was so great that Hugh Newman sold his butterfly farm so that he and his wife could devote all their energies to the ever-expanding
From being one of the first natural history photographic libraries in Britain, NHPA is now among the most highly respected sources of environmental and wildlife photography in Europe.
It is sad that in recent years Newman was never quite well enough to see the results of his brainchild - he would have been very proud to have been its
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