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Much-loved man who played key roles in British Antarctic Survey, Nature Conservancy Council, and Scottish Natural Heritage passes away, aged 83

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Peter Tilbrook.
Peter Tilbrook.

Very many people around the UK have expressed their sadness at the recent death of Dr Peter Tilbrook who had lived in Cromarty for 47 years.

A former research scientist with the British Antarctic Survey and director of Scottish Natural Heritage’s North West Region until 1996, Peter Tilbrook died at the age of 83 following a sudden infection compounded by terminal cancer.

Dr Tilbrook’s daughter Georgia Macleod wrote in an online post: “In the wee small hours in Raigmore today (July 18) we lost our beloved dad, Peter Tilbrook. It’s difficult to put into words how much he was loved and how much he’ll be missed.

A clever, gentle, caring and incredibly funny man, he’s been a huge inspiration to so many throughout a life of dedication to conservation and the environment; with a passion for sport, music and adventure.”

Graduating in 1961, Peter was recruited by what became the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to develop a biological research programme on Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands where he was based for two and a half years.

While there, he identified a number of species of soil invertebrate fauna that were new to science with several later bearing his name. He was awarded a prestigious Polar Medal in 1967.

Meanwhile, in 1965, Peter met Fran on a Bristol University ski trip and they married in 1966, with daughters Cathy and Georgia arriving in 1967 and 1970.

In 1975, Peter moved to Inverness to work for the Nature Conservancy Council as deputy regional officer for NW Scotland and the family moved north to Cromarty.

He was subsequently promoted to a director role in Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot), and led nature conservation in his beloved patch for 21 years. He cared deeply for the wildlife and landscapes of this beautiful area, and was a hugely supportive leader to his staff team.

In many difficult and confrontational situations he won respect across government, developers and conservationists through his calm and robust articulation of the case for protecting nature – not least in the Flow Country peatlands.

Appointed as Peter’s assistant in 1992, fellow Cromarty resident Sheila Currie recalls that Peter was “a patient and subtle teacher, never showing frustration or annoyance at his bumbling assistant, and I learned a lot”.

She added: “I never felt bossed; and the first time he gave me back a draft I’d written for him with no corrections was a special day to remember!

“I worked as his sidekick for four and a bit years until he retired, and the experience of working for him completely set me up for my next 19 years with SNH, instilling accuracy, clarity of thought and clarity of doing, which I try still to carry with me.

“A man with an easy smile, a ready ear and absolutely no sense of imposing his knowledge or experience on anyone,” she added.

After retirement, Peter took on some voluntary roles for a number of environmental charities, notably Scottish Wildlife Trust, John Muir Trust and the Moray Firth Partnership.

He also enjoyed hillwalking and sports (a member of Inverness Sub Aqua Club and Inverness Tennis and Squash Club as well as Cromarty Tennis Club) and attending concerts and other cultural events.

He continued to campaign for the environmental and social causes that he cared so deeply about, including support for Transition Black Isle, helping with the regular community markets, and with the early work of the Cromarty Community Development Trust.

Tributes show just how widely Peter was liked and respected, and sum him up as a gentle, funny, principled and caring man who will be hugely missed.

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