Obituary – Frank Gribble

Frank Gribble (1929 – 2016)
SOS President for 21 Years

We were sad to hear of the death in early September of Frank Gribble, President of SOS, at the age of 86.  Several members of SOS went to a well-attended funeral, a low-key occasion at Stafford crematorium consisting of Beethoven and birdsong but no words, followed by a get-together at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s headquarters at Wolsley Bridge.

Frank was not quite a founder member of SOS, but he was Honorary Secretary from 1958 until he moved to Staffordshire in 1963, BTO rep for Shropshire from 1960 until 1963, and a Vice-President of SOS from 1965 until he became our President in 1995.

Born and brought-up in Bedford, Frank developed an interest in ornithology at an early age, whilst a pupil at Bedford School.  He joined the Natural History Society at school where he learned to ring birds and began a life-time of bird surveys and wildfowl counting.  After school, he became a member of BTO and Bedfordshire Natural History Society and played an active part in both, making regular visits to Bedford Sewage Works and the gravel pits of the Ouse Valley, as well as further afield to the East Coast and Breckland.  He had joined a firm of stockbrokers in Bedford, followed by two year’s National Service in Reading when he was introduced to the Thames Valley gravel pits, and became particularly interested in seabird colonies, and took his leave in the Cairngorms.  On his return to Bedford, Frank joined an insurance company, became BTO rep for Bedfordshire, and began to travel abroad on birdwatching trips to such locations as Norway, Arctic Sweden, and the Camargue.

Whilst organising a black-headed gull count in 1958, Frank was asked to move to work in Shrewsbury.  On his arrival in Shropshire, Frank met Edward Rutter and Ken Stott and soon became involved with SOS, and he quickly began to explore such birding spots as Clun Forest, the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones and Venus Pool, and soon became SOS Secretary and BTO rep for Shropshire.  Frank was very active in both SOS and BTO, organising surveys and wildfowl counts, and being part of a pressure group to oppose large-scale afforestation of the Long Mynd; this group was the origin of Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

In the early 1960s, work began on a “Handlist of the Birds of Shropshire”, Edward Rutter having identified a need for an up-to-date account of the status of birds in the county, with Frank contributing historical information, as well as many records.  Edward Rutter died before the work was completed, but Frank and Tom Pemberton took on the task of finishing the book which was published in 1964.  This book, covering the years 1950 to 1963, was the first bird atlas for the county of Shropshire.

Whilst in Shropshire, Frank lived in Yockleton at first, and then, after meeting his wife, Hilary, in Longden; they had a daughter in 1961, and then a son, born soon after their move to Staffordshire in 1963.  On moving to Staffordshire, Frank became an active member of the West Midland Bird Club, and a founder member of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.  He was BTO rep for Staffordshire from 1965, and from 1967 until 1971 he was Honorary Secretary of BTO, as well as serving on the BTO Council from 1963 to 1967 and from 1985 to 1988.  He also continued to participate in surveys and counts, such as summer and winter atlas work, a national black-headed gull survey, and the heron and wildfowl counts at Aqualate Mere which he had been doing until very recently since 1975.  In 1973 he was awarded the Bernard Tucker Medal for services to BTO, and in 1997 he was awarded a MBE by the Queen for services to nature conservation.

After retirement, Frank contributed to several organisations, including MAFF (as a specialist ornithologist for the North Mercia Regional Panel), Staffordshire FWAG and the Peak Park Wildlife Group.

Frank retained his enthusiasm for wildlife, and birds in particular, throughout his life and during his ‘phone calls to me on Society matters, his first question was always to ask for an update on recent bird sightings in Shropshire.  A number of people I have spoken to recently remember Frank for inspiring and encouraging them to take part in bird surveys and counts, as teenagers and young people, and for showing a keen interest in their progress as birdwatchers.

Frank made a huge contribution to SOS and to ornithology in Shropshire and Staffordshire over many years, as well as to the West Midland Bird Club, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, and the British Trust for Ornithology, and we will miss his genuine interest and involvement in the Society.

Helen J Griffiths
Hon Sec, SOS
October 2016