Jack W Donovan MBE 1928-2012

Tribute to Jack W Donovan MBE 1928-2012

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Jack Donovan MBE, former member, Chairman and Vice President of the Wildlife Trust in West Wales, at the age of 84.

After moving to the county in 1958, Jack joined the ‘West Wales Field Society’ soon afterwards. He became county bird recorder in 1961 and, with Jean (whom he married in 1962), continued to enjoy, watch and record birds for the rest of his life. He was a fierce protector of Pembrokeshire’s unique habitats, helping the West Wales Field Society to purchase Skomer Island, and continued to work tirelessly for conservation on innumerable committees, though he was perhaps particularly devoted to the Mid Pembs Section of the then West Wales Naturalist’s Trust. His enthusiasm never flagged and he was a generous and encouraging mentor to less experienced naturalists.

Jack Donovan, Trevor Theobald and Iolo Williams enjoying a boat trip

As field engineer with MAFF/ADAS he travelled the county, providing invaluable environmental advice to the farming community and acquainting himself with farm ponds, reservoirs and every likely looking birding spot, building up a vast local knowledge which meant he was often in just the right spot to see a rarity or unusual bit of bird behaviour.

In 1985 Jack was awarded the prestigious Idris Davies Memorial Award for outstanding service to Pembrokeshire agriculture (including conservation), and in 1988 Jack and Jean had a wonderful day at Buckingham Palace when he was awarded the MBE for services to conservation and agriculture.

Jack retired in 1989 and his wife Jean soon afterwards, but they both continued to dedicate themselves to pursuing their many interests in natural history. Jack’s support for the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group was highly valued.

Jack and Jean loved to travel and had many wonderful trips both in the UK and abroad (often in their trusty camper van). Binoculars were always the first thing to be packed.

When Jack could no longer get out and about so much following his stroke, his presence was missed by many fellow birders. How often we fail to appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

When his beloved wife Jean died suddenly in October 2009, Jack was devastated, but he always enjoyed having visitors, especially if they had birding stories to share.

Friends and colleagues have many fond memories of Jack over the years: Prof. Chris Perrins (Edward Grey Institute) recalls that Jack, as Chairman of the Islands Committee for many years, would call Saturday morning meetings to order very promptly on days when Wales were playing Rugby, otherwise meetings could run on well into the afternoon. The same also applied, of course, on days when important cricket matches were being played, cricket being a life-long passion of Jack’s. He umpired many an Island’s cricket match over the years and even donned a habit to umpire for the monks on Caldey Island!

Jack often had an interesting turn of phrase and would hit the nail right on the head with a humorous comment. Blaise Bullimore recalls one occasion on a rough crossing to Skokholm many years ago. “We were going through the overfalls at the south end of Jack Sound when he observed “It’s not the great big waves that worry me – it’s the great big holes in between them!” that always sticks with me and pops into my mind whenever it’s rough on a boat.”

Jack’s irrepressible nature is fondly remembered by Graham Rees as he recalls occasions at Strumble Head… If things were quiet in the lookout building Jack had a propensity to pace back and fore behind seawatchers crouching silently over their telescopes, regaling them with excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

The Countryside Council for Wales summarises Jack’s unique contribution to conservation in this diverse corner of Wales: “The relationship between the public and voluntary sector organisations involved with the environment will never be without its ups and downs, but there is always the recognition that whilst we may not agree on all matters, we do share a common goal. Never has this been more typified than in CCW’s relationship with Jack, who throughout acted as our conscience and critical friend. With his inimitable charm, his incisive wit and uncanny sense of timing, his words made any challenge a pleasure to receive.

We are all indebted to him for his support and contribution to conservation in West Wales over so many years. We are all greatly saddened by his death, and now the environmental world in Wales is just a little duller – one of its special lights has gone out”.

On a personal note, I first met Jack in 1975 at a talk he was giving on behalf of the Trust, in St Davids City Hall. Jack was an endlessly knowledgeable, encouraging, good humoured and witty friend, a consummate naturalist and a true gentleman. Journeys with Jack to and from committee meetings were entertaining, informative and inspirational but never dull. His interest in the Islands and the fortunes of the Trust never waned, even to the last.

Jack’s passing marks the end of an era for many birders, naturalists and conservationists throughout Pembrokeshire and West Wales, but I’m sure those who knew him will always remember Jack with a smile and great fondness. He will be much missed. God bless you Jack, and thank you!

Trevor Theobald