5 February 1958 -31 October 2011
Simon Aspinall in the UAE
Sir David Attenborough reading about Simon Aspinall, photo Andi Sapey
This Centre is named in memory of Simon Aspinall, who made major contributions to ornithology and nature conservation, particularly in the Middle East and the United Arab Emirates, from his home in Cley.
Cley Marshes was a constant source of inspiration for Simon and his talent for all of natural history, but particularly birds, was evident by the time he was five. Later he chose to read Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia, a choice that allowed him to spend as much time as possible in North Norfolk. He spent a decade working for conservation organisations in the UK, monitoring moorland birds, seabirds and raptors. This work all depended on his keen skills in observation and identification, his knowledge of bird behaviour, and his understanding of environment.
In 1993 Simon moved to the United Arab Emirates to join the newly established National Avian Research Centre, (later the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency), in Abu Dhabi. He was Head of the Wildlife Management Unit until 1997, and he continued to work in bird and natural history conservation across the Middle East and Caucasus over the next decade. This included working with UNESCO and Bird Life International, and serving as a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Commission for National Parks and Protected Areas and Commission for Ecosystem Management.
Richard Aspinall speaks at the opening of the centre
Simon quickly established a deep knowledge of the Middle East, its cultures and people, environments and wildlife. He wrote over 100 papers and books, including the 2nd edition of Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East, and the Field Guide to the Birds of the United Arab Emirates. With his knowledge of birds and highly developed skills in identification he was co-opted to membership of the Emirates Bird Records Committee, and served as Chairman of the EBRC (2000-6). In 2011 he was awarded Life Membership of the Emirates Natural History Group.
Beyond work, Simon travelled extensively on every continent, seeing for himself the bird, mammal, plant and geological diversity of the planet. He was particularly attracted to islands and the lessons they have for the importance of biodiversity in sustaining healthy environments, although Cley remained his favourite place.
In 2007 Simon was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. He fought this incurable disease with his customary good humour, determination and dedication, qualities that had marked his entire life. His determination to continue birding and conservation work was an inspiration to many and typical of his courage and love of adventure and natural history.
Simon’s contributions were founded on his exceptional talents as a field naturalist, unrivalled knowledge and experience of birds and ecological systems across the planet, personal and professional dedication to conservation as vital to human well-being, his love of all of the natural world, and his generosity in sharing ideas and information. Both his peers and friends recognised that his field skills were exceptional; he regularly and routinely knew what species would be about, found them before anyone else, and happily shared the sighting, experience and enjoyment with all those in his company. These qualities are matched in the purposes of the Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre, which Norfolk Wildlife Trust is proud to dedicate to Simon’s memory.