Norman Moore

A few days ago, I wrote that nature conservation needed more ‘persuaders, convincers, listeners and achievers’.  I was saddened today to hear that Norman Moore, one of the greats of conservation, had died aged 92.  Norman Moore was as close to the embodiment of my epithet than anyone. 

A brilliant field naturalist, a highly competent scientist and effective advocate for nature.  Most importantly, Moore achieved change for nature and probably did more than anyone else in post war Britain to protect nature.

I don’t think I ever met Professor Moore, although I can’t be sure.  On the Surrey heaths, I was once introduced to a tall ‘boffin’ from HQ by the local warden of Thursley.  He was here to see the dragonflies and I was 17.  I like to think it was Moore, but I can’t be sure. 

Moore would certainly have been very familiar with Thursley, the best National Nature Reserve of all for dragonflies.  Norman Moore was a recognised expert on dragonflies and his books popularised this group of insects for a wide audience.

Moore joined the Nature Conservancy in 1953 in the South West of England and here made his first main contribution to conservation by plotting the decline of 16 areas of Dorset Heaths and the consequential reduction in species in the fragmented habitats. 

This now classic bit of research not only helped make the case for habitat conservation, but was a key study leading to today’s disciplines of biogeography.  If one piece of research could have inspired John Lawton’s ‘Bigger, Better, Better Joined Up’ philosophy which so drives today’s conservation, it would have been Moore’s Dorset study.

Norman Moore was one of the Nature Conservancy’s staff who argued for the establishment of a better scientific focus for its work and he sat on the panel that created the plan for the station at Monks Wood in Cambridgeshire.  He then joined the staff at Monks Wood as Head of the Toxic Chemicals and Wildlife Section a position that gave him the opportunity to make one of the biggest nature conservation achievements of the Century.

In 1961, the BTO appointed Dr Derek Ratcliffe to coordinate a survey of peregrines and Ratcliffe began a collaboration with Moore which demonstrated that the principal cause of decline of the population was toxic pesticides, especially the ‘persistent organochlorines’.  Moore, Ratcliffe and Ian Prestt (who went on to lead the RSPB) worked together assembling data on residues in wildlife carcasses, eggshell thinning and toxicology. 

Ian Prestt told me that the breakthrough came when the Ministry of Agriculture scientists realised that the toxic effect Moore’s team illustrated in herons were potentially something that would affect humans.  From the mid 1960s, the organochlorines were largely phased out and the population of top predators, especially birds, has recovered remarkably.

Norman Moore’s next big role was to lead the charm offensive and advocacy for nature as ‘Chief Advisory Officer’ for the Nature Conservancy. Here, Moore did much to put the conservation of nature across the farmlands of Britain onto the agenda.  At the time, many conservationists saw little importance in farmland, some saw farming as wholly inimicable to species and many saw nature reserves as the place for nature. Some 30 years later, I played a small part in nature conservation in a part successor post to this role. 

In his new role, Norman Moore laid the foundations for legislation to protect special sites (today’s SSSI), species conservation and the integration of farming and wildlife.  Norman Moore was a bridge-builder.  Few had done more to demonstrate the harmful effects of habitat loss, pesticides and hedgerow removal. 

Yet, Moore believed that harnessing farmer’s enthusiasm for nature was the next most important challenge.  Against considerable misgivings from colleagues, Norman Moore was instrumental in working with the leaders of the farming community and the Ministry of Agriculture (notably Eric Carter, Derek Barber and John Winnifrith) to establish the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Groups. Whilst some have doubted the effects of this approach, the subsequent development of ‘agri-environmental’ policy has become a cornerstone of wildlife conservation policy.

Norman Moore remained an active enthusiast for nature and with his wife Janet, a Cambridge Biologist, they were regular supporters of conservation activities and the ‘1949 Club’ of former agency staff.  Norman Moore’s 1987 autobiography ‘The Bird of Time’ is both insightful to a remarkable career and a great read too. 

Posted on: November 9th, 2015