Monday, 16 February 2015

Professor Oliver Rackham - a very short tribute

The great man himself - encyclopaedic knowledge about our countryside
I heard today that one of the true greats of the conservation world has died. Professor Oliver Rackham OBE MA PhD FBA, died in Papworth hospital on 12 February 2015, aged 75 years.

He had a lifelong connection with Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, having been an under-graduate there, he went on to specialise as a historical ecologist. He became Master of the College 2007-8, Fellow of the College 1964-2007 and 2008-2010, Honorary Fellow 2008-2015 and Life Fellow 2010-2015. He was awarded the OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours in 1998 for "services to nature conservation". 

I suppose that “services to nature conservation” is OK as far as it goes, but I expect quite a number of people have been given gongs for that. Also the word “services” sounds so boring, when in fact there was little that was dull about this extraordinary man.

No, he should have been given his award for “opening the eyes of countless people, enabling them to understand the landscape in front of them and for his ability to enthuse, educate and inspire!” 

His books about the British countryside, perhaps especially “The History of the Countryside” and “Ancient Woodland” should be read by everyone with even just a hint of interest in what makes our landscape look the way it does. These two books, amongst others he wrote, certainly had a great impact on me when I first read them and I continue to dip into their fascinating pages with regularity to this day.

I was lucky enough to have heard him lecture on a number of occasions, and what always struck me is that once he started talking, he almost became part of the landscape himself, completely living and breathing it!

Yes, he was quite an eccentric and had many strong views on the rights and wrongs of how we “manage” the countryside in today’s world. What is more, he certainly did not shrink away from telling you exactly how he saw it, (how refreshing!), but with his outstanding, encyclopaedic knowledge, gleaned over many, many years of practical research, I for one found him totally inspiring.

So, if any of you reading this blog have not been influenced by this great man – then this is your chance – do not let it pass – get hold of his books now. You will not regret it.

A walk through the woods and fields will never ever be quite the same again!

1 comment:

  1. I read Oliver Rackham's 'Ancient Woodland' in the mid-1980s while working in Epping Forest. No other book did more to form my view of the landscape of the Home Counties or help me see the true beauty and historical continuity of the English countryside. Since then I've taken its precepts and used them to interpret landscapes and vegetation throughout Europe. A masterful piece of work that paints a vivid picture of landcape, vegetation, social and economic history.