Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Prof. – An Obituary.

In 2006, the Environment Agency published a poll of its top 100 eco-heroes of all time. Next to Charles Darwin was the name of Tony Bradshaw, a pioneer of restoration ecology, who died in August, aged 82. That juxtaposition was stunningly appropriate, for Tony made his name as an evolutionary biologist. His work on the evolution of tolerance to heavy metals in grasses growing in contaminated soils remains the clearest and best example of evolution in action, and Darwin would have applauded it.

It was only the other day that I discovered that Tony had died but, as befitted a man of his stature, there were plenty of obituaries to be found when I looked them up. More than anyone, Tony could lay claim to being a founder of urban nature conservation. He was Professor of Botany at Liverpool University from 1968. He retired 20 years later to become emeritus professor and senior fellow of botany.

When I was Company Secretary to the Groundwork Trust, Tony (otherwise known as The Prof. to distinguish him from Tony Bonner another board member, also sadly deceased) was a key member of the Board. A man without any 'side' he was as happy talking detailed scientific theory with the staff as he was explaining things in the simplest of terms to Elected Members whose expertise was in other areas. "That's very interesting", he would patiently and kindly say to some of the more outlandish suggestions that came his way.

Nothing I can say can add to the testimonials in the press (both popular and scientific) except in so far as I always found him to be a most amenable, thoughtful, helpful Member of the Groundwork Board.

Few environmentalists can have had as large a memorial as Tony Bradshaw - the restored Bold Moss Colliery site in St Helens undertaken by Operation Groundwork. Sadly Groundwork has recently had difficulties leaving the future uncertain for one of Merseyside's last remaining fragments of lowland raised bogs. One of the most important parts of Bold Moss is currently owned by Groundwork so people involved in the site are worried about it in the face of uncertainty over its future ownership.

As well as raised bog, the site also has areas of Typha swamp, wet woodland and reed beds - the latter two have their own Habitat Action Plans in the NM BAP. Animals of interest include Common Lizard, Water Vole and Brown Hare - all of which have their own Species Action Plans in the NM BAP - as well as deer, Snipe and Jack Snipe. Bold Moss is also renowned as one of the best dragonfly sites in north Merseyside, with 17 different kinds up to 2005. They include regionally important species such as Emperor Dragonfly, Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser, Black Darter and Ruddy Darter. I hope this memorial will not be lost.

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