RSPB makes posthumous medal award to farmland wildlife scientist Dick Potts

Gemma Butlin

Friday 21 April 2017

The RSPB has taken the unusual decision to award its medal well ahead of its AGM to eminent scientist Dick Potts.

Dick made a sustained contribution to conservation and conservation science from the1970s onwards, particularly through ground breaking studies into the effects of chemicals on farmland birds, especially the grey partridge.

Dick is recognised as the first scientist to realise that farmland bird populations were being adversely affected by the indirect effects of pesticides and herbicides. Others had studied direct effects, such as poisoning of birds of prey by organochlorine insecticides, throughout the 1960s, but Dick was the first to show that farm chemicals reduced the breeding success of grey partridges indirectly by killing the insects their chicks feed on or the weeds that those insects eat.

The long-term work on these effects on partridges, and eventually also other farmland birds, by Dick and his team led the way to understanding these problems and finding solutions to them, including unsprayed conservation headlands around the edges of cereal fields.

Dick's farmland bird research and conservation work was done at the Game Conservancy Trust (now the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), where he was Director General until 2002.

The RSPB medal is the most prestigious award the wildlife charity gives out, and recognises outstanding contribution to nature conservation.

Recipients would usually be considered in June to be presented at the RSPB AGM in October, but Dick had been seriously unwell for some time and an early decision was made.

Dick sadly died on Thursday 30th March, but fortunately his wife, Olga, was able to tell him of the accolade shortly before he passed away.

RSPB Chairman Steve Ormerod, says: "We have lost a remarkable and visionary figure in Dick Potts - whose foresight inspired crucial scientific work and conservation action.

"His contribution to farmland wildlife science has created a legacy for birds like the grey partridge whose very presence in the UK might have been threatened if he hadn't stepped in early, recognised they were in trouble, and identified why.

"The RSPB would like to offer our deepest sympathy to Dick's wife, Olga, and thank her for allowing us to give this award to mark his outstanding work and passion for farmland wildlife."

Olga Potts says: "Dick would have felt truly honoured to have received this award. In true Dick Potts fashion, he would have seen this as not just an award for himself but for all those who, over the years, have worked for the issues he cared so deeply about.

"We will ensure his legacy lives on."

Professor Rhys Green, Professor of Conservation Science at RSPB and the University of Cambridge and Dick's research assistant in the 1970s, says: "Dick's scientific approach had a big influence on me and on conservation science in general. His integrity and openness to evidence-based argument about controversial questions stands out.

"Perhaps more than anything else, Dick's detailed knowledge of natural history, ecology and farming meant that his considered opinions often turned out to be correct, well before the formal evidence was in."

Dr Mike Rands, Executive Director, Cambridge Conservation Initiative, says: "Dick contributed enormously to nature conservation by promoting research-based policy and practice to land owners and government decision makers. This recognition of Dick's extraordinary contribution to conservation demonstrates the RSPB's recognition of the contribution people from the community Dick worked for can make to how the countryside is nurtured for nature."

The RSPB AGM is on Saturday October 7th at the QE11 Centre in London.

Tagged with: Topic: Obituaries