Finlay Christine, our good friend and supporter at Mull Eagle Watch passed away on 26 December 2012. His funeral was on 3 January 2013 at the beautiful little church near his home in Lochbuie, Mull. Many friends were able to attend to pay their respects but some were not and many others will have bumped into Finlay - on or off duty - on their visits to Mull over the years. So here in tribute to his amazing and full life and work are some extracts from the eulogy written and read by Alistair Dewar at his service...including some of our adventures with the eagles on Mull.
"Finlay was born on 9th January 1961, in Paisley. Following his education at Simshill Primary and then Kings Park Secondary, he had part time jobs doing a milk round and labouring in the brick factory managed by his father. On 16th July 1979, Finlay joined Strathclyde Police and was posted to the Gorbals area of Glasgow. At that time it was still a tough environment to police, but it did not particularly phase Finlay who took it in his stride. In 1983 Finlay applied to join the Police Support Unit, which is principally a specialist department whose officers are trained in the use of firearms and search techniques, but mainly used to deal with disorder throughout the force area.
Colleagues were blown away by Finlay’s dress sense. While most of them arrived at work in old bangers of cars with casual jackets over their uniform, not Finlay, he was very much a 'Dandy', a 'follower of fashion' wearing the most up to date clothes. He even drove a gold coloured MGB GT sports car; when he emerged from his car he was more like James Bond than a Glasgow bobby. His colleagues now realised they had a larger than life character in their midst. His great sense of humour made him very well liked, and he soon became the backbone of their social life, organising the support unit nights out, to a formula which exists to this day. Finlay was seen to live life to the full.
He was physically tough too; playing the weekly, no quarter given, Support Unit 5-a-side football, Finlay was heavily tackled and fell to the ground. Limping and bleeding from the mouth, rather than go off and let the team down, he became goalkeeper for the remainder of the game. It later transpired he had a broken jaw, broken wrist and sprained ankle. His considerate colleagues visited him with a box of toffees! Following service in the Support Unit, Finlay transferred to Pollock where he served until 1991 when he decided it was time to experience rural policing and was successful in his application to come to Mull.
Not surprisingly, Finlay’s easy going nature and policing skills enabled him to adapt quickly to the policing needs of Salen and to Mull as a whole. Finlay, when he first went to Mull did not realise it, but he was to become a specialist in wildlife crime.
Several years earlier sea eagles had been reintroduced to the West of Scotland and a few pairs settled on Mull. Because of their rarity they quickly became the target of compulsive egg thieves and annually their nests were plundered. The sea eagles were very important to tourism on Mull, so it was decided by Strathclyde Police and the RSPB that the local community and volunteers could be organised to protect nest sites.
Finlay helped launch 'Operation Easter' – part of a highly successful and nationwide campaign to combat wildlife crime. This later evolved into 'Mull Eagle Watch' – the world’s biggest wildlife neighbourhood watch and it successfully prosecuted a number of cases over the years. Finlay was the glue that held it all together and as a direct result of this Mull is now on the world stage as a place that both safeguards its wildlife and shows it to thousands of visitors every year.
Finlay was also a media star and in this way helped to spread the message about wildlife crime. On Mull he featured in numerous wildlife programmes including Springwatch, Autumnwatch, Eagle Island, Landward and Wildlife Detectives. And not forgetting a starring role in Balamory! Finlay was justly proud of protecting Mull’s wildlife and of the successful prosecutions over the years; he also enjoyed receiving the 'Wildlife Crime Officer of the Year Award' and a RSPB President’s Award in 2009. But he was possibly most proud of his Blue Peter Badge! He filmed with them at Loch Frisa and Grasspoint in 2009 and wore his badge with honour.
In June 2006 during a nightime unseasonably violent storm, a white tailed eagle nest near Finlay’s beloved Lochbuie was torn from its sea cliff site and plunged 80 feet to the rocks below, taking two young eaglets with it. The RSPB thought they must have perished but the next morning both chicks were found still alive – just. With Finlay’s help the RSPB tended to the two bedraggled chicks, built them a brand new nest on the cliff and placed them in it – along with a whole salmon from the freezer at Laggan Farm. Within a few hours the parent eagles were back feeding their chicks in the nest that Finlay built. A few weeks later both chicks fledged successfully. Five years later, one of those chicks is paired up and nesting on Islay, the other is nesting not a million miles away from Lochbuie and last year raised its first chick. This year a second chick fledged. Finlay was rightfully proud of this achievement. The eagles are his amazing legacy.
This of course was over and above his main role of being a part of the small team of officers tasked with policing the island. He loved this type of policing which he carried out with credit until his retiral in July 2009, a total of 19 years which possibly makes him the longest serving officer in the same rural post ever. Finlay was an old fashioned community police officer who did not always follow the Strathclyde Police Standard Procedures, more often he chose the 'Finlay Christine' way of policing and yes, it worked well in most situations.
Finlay was someone who it was always a joy to meet; he had a twinkle in his eye and usually a humorous story to tell. You invariably walked away feeling much better having met him. A final wee story about Finlay, which I think highlights what a refreshing 'one-off' he was and why he appealed to so many – a few years ago the Chief Constable was visiting Mull. At such times most police officers, although off duty, made themselves available. The entourage arrived at Salen, no Finlay, he had a better offer. The Chief Constable opened the visitor’s book to sign as they do, and burst out laughing. A piece of paper inside read 'Gone Fishing'."
Mull Eagle Watch will miss his wise words and constant support. We all miss him more than words can say.
David Sexton RSPB Mull Officer
Finlay sat on the famous eagle bench at Loch Frisa when Blue Peter came to town
Finlay Christine, sat on the right, Andy Akinwolere (Blue Peter) on the left & Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer Standing
(photo Debby Thorne)
Sgt Angie MacDonald with Finlay at his retirement with an Iain Erskine photograph of one of the Loch Don white-tailed eagles. Finlay initially set up Mull Eagle Watch to help protect this particular pair of eagles after their eggs were stolen just days before they were due to hatch. In 2008 he arrested and charged a photographer who got too close to them at the nest and caused their breeding attempt to fail. And it was this legendary old pair of eagles that Finlay filmed with Blue Peter, wearing his badge with pride from that day on.
(Photo by Caroline Davies)