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OBE for Roy Dennis – Forres conservation pioneer says: "It's not work, it's a life"

By Lewis McBlane

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FORRES resident Roy Dennis has been awarded an OBE for his lifetime spearheading conservation in Scotland and abroad – but says: "there's still lots to do."

Conservation Roy Dennis has spent more than 60 years leading a range of conservation projects...Picture: Beth Taylor
Conservation Roy Dennis has spent more than 60 years leading a range of conservation projects...Picture: Beth Taylor

Mr Dennis (83), speaking earlier this week, said he was "really honoured" to receive the honour for more than 60 years of service.

And his passion is as strong as ever.

"I'm 83 at the moment, coming towards 84. But I keep going," he said.

"I've been out birding locally all morning.

"As I've always said, it's not work – it's a life.

"Especially when I was younger, we just worked on these projects for double the time of normal work.

"You have to have that enthusiasm because a lot of it has to be done at odd times of the day and night."

Starting his north of Scotland conservation efforts in 1959, Mr Dennis has led projects to reintroduce the white-tailed eagle, red kite, osprey and golden eagle.

He said Findhorn Nature Reserve was the local project he held closest to his heart – especially his work supporting Moray's ospreys since the 1960s.

Populations in Rutland Water, Dorset, Switzerland, Andalusia, the Basque Country, Andalusia and Valencia owe their existence to local birds.

And some of the first satellite tagging technology saw Mr Dennis follow the birds to West Africa.

"Our work has been international, but Moray has been a very important part of my life and a special place for really long term research on these birds," he said.

"I've followed that population for many, many years, from the second or the third pair of ospreys which nested way back in the mid-60s.

"We knew every nest, we knew every individual.

Roy Dennis, from Forres, has been awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours List...Picture: Beth Taylor
Roy Dennis, from Forres, has been awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours List...Picture: Beth Taylor

"A lot of work on ospreys has been done around here with different landowners, in a very confidential way, so we weren't saying where the nests were.

"That has been special with this area."

Working in the RSPB for more than 30 years, he won the charity's Golden Eagle Award in 2004 for being the top Scottish conservationist of the last 100 years.

And together with a long association with the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, he also set up the Highland Foundation for Wildlife in 1995.

In 2017, the foundation changed its name to the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation "to reflect Roy’s inspirational contribution to nature conservation and the international scope of our work."

The organisation has been closely involved in the successful reintroduction of the two-and-a-half meter wingspan white-tailed eagle to the Isle of Wight.

And, as a result, this year saw the first eagle chick born in the south of England for at least 240 years.

"I'm just absolutely chuffed at that," he said.

"And what I really like, is that the people down there just think it's fantastic.

"This huge bird can fly over Portsmouth or Southampton or the outskirts of London – and I think the things we do are really appreciated by people."

He said the honour meant more to him because it showed that attitudes toward nature are changing.

"I'm really, really pleased," he said.

"And really honoured that it's to do with our wildlife foundation and our projects – and that these things are being more valued by society.

"It's only now that there is real worry about climate and nature, especially by the young.

"That pleases me. Because, you know, I've been doing this for a very long time.

"And we're looking forward to receiving it. Whether it's London or whether it's Edinburgh – that'll be a happy day."

Awarded an MBE in 1992, Mr Dennis said news of his OBE came "out of the blue", with a letter from the Cabinet Office and a note from Lord Lieutenant of Moray Major General Seymour Monro.

Mr Dennis, who is also a writer and lecturer, has presented episodes of the BBC's Autumnwatch and Springwatch.

Another of the conservationist's passions is the reintroduction of beavers and lynx to Scotland, which he continues to push for.

"I've always been a great believer in conservation, but there's still lots to do," he said.

"I'd love to see the lynx back in Scotland, and I'd love to think that, one day, golden eagles will one day breed down where I live just behind Forres – where they ought to."

The 83-year-old also praised the team within his namesake foundation, of which he is now honorary president.

"I'm very fortunate now that I have an excellent group of people who work with me in the foundation," he said.

"Without those sort of people, who are really good at climbing trees, know how to ring birds of prey – have those vital skills – these projects are more difficult.

"We've got a lot of people who have been doing this for a long time.

"But there's still lots to do, and that's why I also love working with the young people who work with me."

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