Richard Evans: obituary

It was with enormous shock and great sadness that we learned of the recent passing of Richard Evans.

He was a friend of ours and a strong supporter of this blog.

We’ll miss you, mate.

richard evans

His obituary, reproduced below, was published in the Herald a couple of days ago:

Obituary – Richard Evans, naturalist and expert on eagles

Born: March 6, 1964;

Died: August 8, 2016

RICHARD Evans, who has died after a sudden cardiac arrest aged 52, was a senior conservation policy officer at RSPB Scotland, and played a pivotal role in the defence and conservation of some of Scotland’s rarest and most highly valued protected areas.

In a 26 year career at the bird and wildlife charity, he became a skilled all-round naturalist, but uniquely honed and combined three specific complementary skills – becoming an adept computer analyst of large and complex data sets, an expert adviser on EU and UK environmental case law, and a toponymist, now popularly known as “an expert on the names of landmarks” owing to the writings of Robert Macfarlane.

Born in the Welsh border town of Abergavenny in south Wales, he read English at University College, Durham. He enjoyed being part of the university’s oldest college, and contributed vigorously to the students’ revelries in the Castle Keep. Nicknamed “Hamlet”, in part due to his demeanour but mainly his scepticism and ability to quote Shakespeare, he delighted in reciting pithy one-liners.

At Durham he met Duncan Orr-Ewing, now Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, who remembers an adept rock climber spending most of his time birding with enthusiastic members of the university’s Wildlife Society.

On graduating in 1986 Mr Evans joined an expedition to North West Ecuador to survey rainforest birds as part of a work programme to designate an Important Bird Area, now one of 12,000 key global conservation areas. It was the making of him as a conservationist, and imbued in him the vital importance of protected areas for saving wildlife.

In 1988 he joined the RSPB as a research assistant, working with Roy Dennis based at Munlochy, north of Inverness. He surveyed Moray Firth seaduck in the winter and Caithness seabirds in the summer as part of North Sea oil industry related monitoring.

In 1994 he moved to Mull as the RSPB conservation officer, and over the ensuing eight years worked with Roger Broad in leading the endeavours to secure the white-tailed eagle population there. This experience of working on eagles was to prove vital later.

It was on Mull in 1996 that he met his wife to be, Solveigh, an isotope geochemist researching the geology and tectonics of the Loch Don area of Mull. He saw Solveigh with a friend in a field close to a sea eagle nest and, compelled by his duties to protect nesting birds from disturbance, promptly approached to tell them they were not permitted to be so close to the birds. To his chagrin he learnt that Solveigh’s parents were involved in sea eagle protection in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, and that she knew a good deal about sea eagles herself. They married in October 2002.

In the same year the couple moved to Edinburgh, where he worked first as RSPB Scotland’s sites policy officer and, from 2009, as senior conservation policy officer, playing a central role in the conservation of protected areas in Scotland.

As a co-opted member of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) teams at public inquiries objecting to inappropriate large wind farms and industrial developments, his gift for spotting flaws in data and scientific and legal arguments became legendary. Hours of cross-examination of the opposing side would be punctuated by the provision of helpful slips to SNH’s counsel pointing to critical legal judgements or inconsistencies which holed the developer’s case.

Observing ill-informed and arrogant witnesses, his favourite intonation was: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool”. He was a master breech-loader of the salient brief, and ten minutes spent in his company preparing for a crucial meeting could be decisively or disastrously effective, depending on your standpoint.

A scholar of eagle place names, our understanding of the history of Britain and Ireland’s eagles owes much to his ingenious desk and field research. During a sabbatical foray to the National Library of Scotland, he made what proved to be an inspired discovery. He realised it should be possible to adduce the former British and Irish ranges and population sizes of white-tailed eagles and golden eagles through pouring over historical maps giving often obscure Germanic and Celtic references to locations bearing their names.

In 2012 he published a scholarly paper with Phil Whitfield and Lorcan O’Toole which traced the changing distribution of these raptors over three millennia. They were able to show that around 1500 years ago both eagles were widespread, occupying many lowland parts, with possibly up to 1400 pairs of sea eagles and 1500 pairs of golden eagles in the British Isles. The paper was commended as outstanding by the Watson Raptor Science Panel, which awards an annual prize for the best paper on raptors published in Europe.

Earlier this year, he led work on a major report on the current status and prospects for white-tailed eagles in Scotland. He represented RSPB Scotland on a stakeholder group formed to resolve conflicts around these birds, and commanded great respect for his expert knowledge and ability to see many sides of an argument.

Increasingly, given his combined legal and scientific expertise, he advised on the more contentious and complex development issues. He was a founder member of the Scottish Windfarm Bird Steering Group, working with the renewables industry to develop the evidence base on bird populations and wind farms.

Tragically, he died suddenly whilst cycling to work. Just days before he was immersed in supporting the beginnings of the Heritage Lottery funded project to boost South Scotland’s golden eagle population. A proponent of this ambitious work, he was guiding the project team to sites where eagles held dominion centuries ago. The sight of these great birds soaring under the gaze of excited eyes would be a wonderful legacy.

Softly spoken and understated, jovial, perceptive, tactically clever, and determinedly non-institutional, Richard Evans was admired and loved by colleagues and friends – as much for his humanity as for his deep intelligence.

He is survived by Solveigh, son Aneirin, and his parents John L. Evans and E. Mary Evans.

5 Responses to “Richard Evans: obituary”

  1. 1 Dylanben
    August 22, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    What a tragic loss, both for his family and nature conservation.

  2. 2 Michael May.
    August 22, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Very sorry to hear this. RIP, and condolences to his family.

  3. 3 Bill Taylor
    August 22, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    First met Richard when he was.working at the RSPB highland office many years ago. A really good guy, so sorry to hear this news. Thoughts are with his family.

  4. 4 Chris Davies
    August 22, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Very sad news. Will be missed greatly. Our thoughts are with his family.

  5. 5 Jimmy
    August 22, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    Always the good ones:(

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