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OBITUARY: The Highlander who brought sea eagles back to Britain

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By David Love

John Love. The name is synonymous with sea eagles, Britain’s biggest raptor which was reintroduced to this country from 1975 to 1986.

John managed the project which was intended to last only six weeks. In the event it went on for over 10 years. After visiting Norway with the help of an RAF Nimrod to collect chicks to bring back to Scotland, he spent many years on the Isle of Rum, ensuring that they flourished, feeding them in their remote cages in all weathers.

TV and radio were fascinated by the programme and John was often featured in a newscast reporting on their progress.

Although controversial, they are a more familiar sight now as the successful breeding programme has transmitted to the wild with these magnificent White-Tailed Eagles soaring around the Hebrides.

John died suddenly at the age of 77 in his cottage in Snishival on South Uist on October 17. He had lived on the islands for almost 30 years but still called his birthplace of Inverness his home.

John Love.
John Love.

Well known Highland naturalist Roy Dennis, who spearheaded the Sea Eagle project, described John as their “champion” adding “whenever we see sea eagles in the sky, we will remember him – a lasting memorial above our heads.”

His friends and colleagues also described him as “Scotland’s other national treasure” or “The Lord of the Isles” such was John’s passion for and devotion to all Scotland’s islands, particularly St Kilda, Fair Isle, Iona and Canna as well as Rum.

He was responsible for the removal of the ‘H’ in the island’s name, so misspelt for many years because a landowner didn’t favour the connection to the spirit.

Not only was John an author – writing two acclaimed books about sea eagles – he also wrote about Rum, Scotland’s lighthouses, sea otters, penguins amongst others.

His final book about renowned Highland naturalists, including Roy Dennis and of course John himself, was at the manuscript stage and Whittles, John’s publisher, hopes to bring it to print next year. Roy Dennis has agreed to help achieve that.

But John was also a popular guide and commentator on specialist cruise ships, notably with Noble Caledonia, with whom he worked for 19 years, travelling all over the world. Among the ports of call were Antarctica and Madagascar, two places John longed to visit.

But his favourites were always sailing around the British Isles and his beloved Hebrides.

He was so highly regarded, many passengers would first check if John – a qualified RIB pilot – was on their particular ship before booking, and some travelled from afar to attend his funeral in Inverness on November 6.

The owner of Noble Caledonia, Katarina Salen and chair of the company, Dr Kim Crosbie also made the journey to pay their last respects.

During his tenure with the company, they made John godfather of one of their vessels “Hebridean Sky” and he travelled to Sweden for the ceremony - an honour he treasured.

Four key words sum up John’s life. Family, friendship, photography – and the fourth is the link that chains the quartet together - wildlife.

From an early age it was clear John was passionate about the planet and its wilder inhabitants.

Born on August 19, 1946, our mother, Agnes, raised her three boys well after our father, Harry, died at an early age in 1955. my late oldest brother Jim was 10, John seven and I was two.

Jim pursued a successful career in journalism like myself and sadly Jim died in 2006, at the age of just 63 from a brain tumour. He was editor of The Inverness Courier.

John attended Central School primary in Inverness and soon became a member of the Scottish Ornithologist Club.

He went to secondary school at the Inverness Royal Academy and then on to further education at Aberdeen University studying zoology. It was there he met like-minded pals and became part of a close band of biologists (including birders) that graduated in the 1970.

After graduating, John and two others from this class embarked upon PhD projects at Aberdeen University’s Culterty Field Station on the Ythan Estuary.

John was already familiar with Culterty, having spent his Honour’s BSc field project on Herring Gull predation of mussels. Measuring energy flow through ecosystems was pioneering ecology in the early 1970s and John was tasked with continuing to describe the energy flow between mussels and birds for his PhD.

He moved on to Rum and then to South Uist to become area officer for Scottish Natural Heritage for South Uist, Barra and St Kilda.

John was equally passionate about all the islands, their history, and immersed himself in the local culture and its preservation, easily slotting into the community and relishing in playing his mandolin and fiddle at local ceilidhs as well as on his cruises.

The family are planning a celebration of John’s life in South Uist in the Spring of 2024. Like his funeral in Inverness, it will be full of Gaelic songs and fiddle music.

The service music was particularly appropriate and poignant. The Gaelic song “Leaving Lismore” was a song sung by John’s late Auntie Flora when she won a silver pendant at the Mod many years ago. The fiddle music, led by John’s friend Douglas Stewart at the end of the service, was the Cameron Highlanders March. John’s late father, Harry was in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and it was John’s favourite.

On his visits back to Inverness and beyond, he always made a point of catching up with family, taking a keen interest in what everyone was doing. His wide circle of friends were also vital to him and he never lost contact.

But although he is gone, John will not be forgotten and will forever be a friend to all whom he met. Most of all, John will always be a member of the family.

John is survived by brother David, sister in law Maureen, niece Heather, nephew Jamie and Jamie’s daughter Lucy-Jordan. He was particularly close to cousins Murdo, Ann and Dorothy and their families as well as those in Slough, Flora and Gerald.

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