Tributes paid to leading Norfolk conservationist Philip Wayre who has died at the age of 93

Philip Wayre at his Earsham home. Philip Wayre at his Earsham home.

Saturday, July 5, 2014
6:30 AM

Tributes have been paid to one of the country’s leading conservationists and naturalists who has died at the age of 93.

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Philip Wayre, MBE, was a joint founder of the Otter Trust with his late wife Jeanne and their efforts are widely acknowledged as helping to save one of Britain’s favourite mammals from extinction.

Mr Wayre, a television naturalist, author, and award-winning conservationist, set up the Otter Trust at Earsham, near Bungay, in 1971.

The population of otters was in serious decline but a captive breeding programme with the animals released later in the wild has seen a remarkable recovery.

When the Otter Trust closed in 2008 otters could be found in every county of England.

Speaking at the time Mr Wayre said: “We had achieved what we set out to do. There was no further reason for us to keep captive otters so we decided to close the trust down.”

Mr Wayre first visited Norfolk when he was 17 and enjoyed many happy days with his best friend Gordon Jolly filming wildfowl at Wells and Holkham.

In June 1947 he came to live in Norfolk as a farm pupil near Fakenham and then in 1948 he bought and farmed Burwood Hall at Mileham before moving to Great Witchingham.

Mr Wayre opened the Norfolk Wildlife Park on his 50-acre farm at Great Witchingham in 1961. The park was able to show a collection of British mammals in as natural surroundings as possible.

For many people Mr Wayre will also be remembered as the televison naturalist who played with hawks and foxes on Anglia Television in the late 1950s and during the 1960s when he produced nature films for both Anglia and the BBC including Wind in the Reeds, Twilight of the Tiger and the Vanishing Otter.

The Philip Wayre Wildlife Trust was founded in 1994 to promote the need for conservation and to encourage the protection of British wildlife and wild areas.

An important aim of the Philip Wayre Wildlife Trust is in the education of the public in the conservation of wildlife and the natural environment.

It was also in 1994 that Mr Wayre was awared the MBE for services to conservation and the following year he was voted “Countryman of the Year.”

The chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Brendan Joyce, said: “Philip Wayre was a pioneer in taking positive action to conserve otters across England, Norfolk Wildlife Trust was very fortunate to have received Philip and The Otter Trust’s support for its own work protecting endangered wildlife and habitats across Norfolk.

“One of our newest reserves, Swangey Fen, was kindly gifted by the Otter Trust in 2009 and most recently Philip and his fellow trustees gave £100,000 towards our Cley Marshes appeal.

“It was vital support that helped hugely in securing the land between Cley and Salthouse Marshes for conservation. We are indebted to Philip and he, his energy and commitment to conservation will be greatly missed.”

In 2011 Mr Wayre was made an honorary life member of the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) in recognition of his work to reintroduce otters to this country’s waterways.

CRT chairman Robin Page said Mr Wayre was the “real hero” behind the otter resurgence.

“Without his dedication, linked to captive breeding, when otters were at their most vulnerable, and re-introduction once habitat improved, the otter would still be restricted to a few remote corners of Britain,” said Mr Page.

Mr Wayre loved the sea and boats, particularly spending time on his converted trawler, the Jeanne Helene.

He was a much loved father who passed on his passion for natural history to his two daughters, Sonia and Claire.

They are continuing his work by running the Philip Wayre Wildlife Trust to protect wildlife and wil areas for future generations.

He also leaves four granddaughters and four great grandchildren.

Mr Wayre died peacefully at his home at Earsham on Sunday, June 29.

A celebration of his life and work is being arranged by the family to be held in September at Earsham.

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