Guest blog by Dr Mark Eaton, Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.
On 6th November, John Sawyer, CEO of the National Biodiversity Network, died of a sudden heart attack. On 23rd November, Kate Barlow, Head of Engagement and Science at Earthwatch, died unexpectedly after a short illness. John was 47, Kate was 44, and the loss of both has come as a huge shock to the many people who knew them.
Of course, John and Kate will be mourned by their families and friends, to whom our sympathies go out. Their loss is also an immense blow for the conservation community and those who have worked with them. I can't claim to have known either John or Kate very well, and for heartfelt obituaries I suggest you read here for John and here for Kate. But both were active participants in the State of Nature partnership, and through my work on that, and other projects monitoring and reporting upon the health of the UK’s wildlife, they were collaborators and familiar faces from meetings, workshops and conferences. The last time I met with both John and Kate was in October, to discuss plans for developing the State of Nature project into new and exciting areas, and I was sure that both were going to play key roles in those developments.
Kate's great passion was for bats, and until recently she worked for the Bat Conservation Trust, running the National Bat Monitoring Programme. Under her guidance this grew into a fantastic example of scientifically-sound volunteer-based monitoring, and she was able to export the approaches she developed to many other countries. She provided valuable guidance on using bat data in our work measuring and reporting on the UK’s biodiversity through reports and indicators, and was always prepared to provide her time and expertise. Earlier this year she moved on to a new challenge, developing the scientific programme at Earthwatch. Kate and her dog Laika called in to The Lodge back in July. Although a ‘summer’ day of driving rain ruined our plans for a dogwalk, we met with my RSPB colleagues to discuss how we might be able to work together, and I had high hopes that we would develop new projects together. It was always a pleasure to see Kate; a kind, gentle person full of interest and humour.
My first encounter with John was shortly after he began at the NBN. We sat in the sun outside the Lodge as he outlined his plans to develop the NBN, and cement its role at the heart of biodiversity recording and conservation in the UK. John was clearly a dynamic chap, great company, and came with a fascinating background in conservation around the world and most particularly in New Zealand, from where he had just returned. But to be honest, I was rather sceptical that he would be able to deliver the grand plans he outlined. Less than a year later it was clear that my scepticism was misplaced – John had completed a review of the NBN and a wide-ranging consultation, unveiled a new strategy, and under his leadership the NBN was clearly going places. The word that I have seen used time after time in the stunned responses to his passing is ‘inspirational’, and I can really only repeat that – John’s enthusiasm, energy, passion and clear-eyed vision inspired people.
Kate and John were wonderful people, who dedicated their lives to making the world a better place, and inspired others to do likewise. They are gone too soon, but both will have had a lasting impact: they have indeed a made the world a better place.