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27 Jul 2022

Tribute: Peter Tilbrook

Will Williams shares an appreciation of a friend and fellow ex John Muir Trust Trustee Peter Tilbrook who has died.

Peter Tilbrook smaller

Peter was already established in the NW Region of the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) when I joined in 1979 and first met him. I remember so well his support and understanding for me as new boy at the Edinburgh Headquarters and the beginning of a working relationship that I have very much cherished.

He always had time to patiently listen and discuss the challenges we had at that time, especially those related to oil development in the Cromarty Firth. With the political support for oil related development, the need for level headed effort to conserve areas special for wildlife was critical and Peter, with his strong scientific background and stamina, was never derailed by the immense pressure from development promoters. He maintained immense credibility and respect for his role in the government’s conservation agency. He calmly articulated the position for the needs and protection of wildlife.

On my retirement in 2000, I discovered John Muir’s work on a visit to Yosemite and on my return became a Trustee of the John Muir Trust. It was a great joy to find Peter, happily retired and already a Trustee (1998 – 2004). Being involved with the Trust was an uplifting joy to us as it took a holistic strategic view for the value and future of wildlife and landscape and the experience of enjoying it by people.

Peter’s contributions were well considered, founded on a lifetime experience in nature conservation. He was so committed and excited like many of us to be able to make such a difference. It was a time when the John Muir Trust was at the cutting edge of the importance of wildness to foster nature’s processes, as well as bringing nature so much closer to people. With the support of Trust Members and generous donations, land was bought and Peter was at the forefront of what was necessary to implement habitat management. In parallel, the John Muir Award was flourishing and policy development was progressive. 

Trustee meetings were dynamic and inspiring. It was where things happened to take the agenda forward to protect and manage wild areas and influence others. Taking  Ben Nevis into John Muir Trust ownership brought great satisfaction for Peter, a mountain that had been in his patch as the NW Regional Director for NCC. He was of course poised with the knowledge and experience to advise on the necessary management to reinvigorate nature on this iconic mountain.

Peter had the temperament, the approach and skills to work with people and get the best out of them. He had the time and the patience to explain and bring about leadership in his way. In one meeting of Trustees, Peter, in the absence of the chairman, was asked to chair and I will never forget how he took us through some contentious issues with some strong minded individuals, to deliver strong outcomes.

During his time other land was brought under Trust ownership and management, notably East Schiehallion and Glenlude. As Trustees we frequently visited land owned by the Trust and that is when Peter’s contribution was invaluable. Being in the field with Peter was seeing his strength as a conservationist. Always modest and humble and importantly respected.

Peter will be sadly missed by so many, not only as a friend and a conscientious work colleague, but also as a genuinely committed lover of nature, who continued well beyond his retirement to make a difference for the future of wildlife and our enjoyment of it.

Peter remained a very keen supporter of John Muir Trust and his family have asked others that shared Peter’s commitment to make a donation to the Trust or alternatively to Dignity in Dying, which brought him comfort. 

Dr Will Williams
John Muir Trust Trustee 2000-2009 & 2010–2016.  

It can add so much to our enjoyment of the mountain experience to grasp even a little of the complex interactions of events, both historical and current, which have resulted in the scene before us, whether that be a landscape, a plant community, a mountain hare or a dragonfly.

Dr Peter Tilbrook (1939-2022) quote taken from a book review on page 23 of the Autumn 2006 edition of the Journal.