Sad news: Colin Wilkinson RIP

I learned today of the passing on Saturday of Colin Wilkinson, a former colleague at the RSPB.

Colin worked first in the RSPB Central England Region (the cinderella of RSPB regions – lots of people, not so many birds) which morphed into the Midlands Region. He was based in the Banbury office and more recently at Otmoor. His expertise was in planning issues.

Here he is talking at Otmoor a couple of years ago:

because I live in ‘his’ RSPB region I had contact with Colin over local matters after I left the RSPB on such subjects as chicken farms, Fineshade Wood and the Nene Valley Gravel Pits.

And one of Colin’s major achievements (with others, it’s always teamwork, but he did a lot of the heavy lifting) was to get Government and Natural England to classify the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits as an SPA, Ramsar site and SSSI. That designation formed the core of a pilot Nature Improvement Areas and a NLHF Landscape Partnership Scheme. My local patch of Stanwick Lakes is one of the parts of the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits SPA – see here for the very important and rather dull standard data form. Let us hope that this level of protection, imperfect though it is, will remain for a good long time as a part of Colin’s conservation legacy.

Colin was a talented artist and as part of his contribution to the Oxford Swift City project he contributed illustrations to the reprint of David Lack’s book Swifts in a Tower. I’ve looked at them again this afternoon and they are very good. Colin’s cover illustration for the book is wonderful, capturing as it does the bird and the Oxford University Museum of Science building so well.

I have an example of Colin’s artwork in the office where I write this and almost everything else I write. I look at it every day that I am at home.

It’s a clever illustration and was commissioned by my team as a leaving present for me when I left the RSPB. It accompanies a version of this scene that first appeared in the shooting press which showed a desolate RSPB nature reserve and a bird-rich grouse moor, and this is the alternate version.

Obviously I prefer Colin’s version which has lots of nice touches such as a glass of champagne, a copy of a book I wrote (held upside down by a Hare), a very common plumage of pale trousers and a blue shirt, a beer gut and, somewhat spookily, he’s got my feet right too. On the other side of the dry stone wall someone who could almost be a gamekeeper is carrying a dead male Hen Harrier.

It was a lovely present and every time I have corresponded with Colin since leaving the RSPB I have mentioned to him that his artwork stays on my office wall and still gives me great pleasure.

Colin Wilkinson was a talented, knowledgeable and very nice man. He was one of many who in an unfussy way made the RSPB work and formed the backbone of its success. Colin contracted Covid-19 and his fight against it left him with the need for surgery. Colin passed away on Saturday, peacefully with his family by his side.

Our thoughts must be with his family and many friends but those who knew him will also be running through memories of a creative man who dedicated his life to protecting and saving nature.

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16 Replies to “Sad news: Colin Wilkinson RIP”

  1. Mark,

    Thank you so much for your tribute to Colin. I almost messaged you earlier but knew you would recognise Colin's contribution to nature and colleagues.

    I guess in a rugby team Colin would have been a number six: talented, tough and tenacious but almost invisible to the people sat in the stands.

    He fought for nature - at the coalface - every available minute and inspired colleagues and young people to love and care for wildlife.

    Together we tackled case studies, planted reeds at Otmoor, surveyed nightjars and painted children's faces with tigers and badgers.

    We often shared walking and camping trips: always finding wildlife spectacles, laughing and enjoying a good pub meal each evening. He was rubbish at erecting his tent!

    On one occasion Colin had secured a long-fought victory to manage water flow into Rutland Water. He turned to me and said: 'Andy, if it doesn't take seven years to win, it isn't worth doing!'

    That was Colin. An exceptional naturalist, a great conservationist and a wonderful friend. I really miss him, Mark.

    RIP, Colin.

  2. Thank you Mark for writing such a nice piece about my friend Colin. I too, am the very proud owner of several pieces of Wilkinson art work, of which my most treasured is my leaving present. It features the gorgeous Middleton Lakes pond and my children dipping it. People rarely featured in his art but he knew what that would mean to me and captured the scene perfectly.
    Many people won't be aware of the huge amount of volunteering that Colin did, he was a Wildlife Explorer leader for many, many years and helped me out countless times at events for young people. One piece of his remarkable legacy will be the young people that he inspired through generous sharing his immense knowledge and talents. We must hope that they take up the cause that he fought so tirelessly for.

  3. Very sad news. Sincere condolences to you Mark and to Colin's family, friends & colleagues. Another dreadful loss to this horrible disease. Best regards Andy.

  4. A wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. I've known Colin for the last six years, and he was the epitome of kindness, friendliness and passion, as well as a brilliant naturalist. I owe him a lot - not just a few of my 'firsts' in wildlife experience (walking around the New Forest ALL NIGHT in search for nightjars, so worth the tick bite I got), but I also owe him his support and calmness in all areas of my work.

    I have a Colin-work-of-art Christmas Card from him that will be being framed, in memory of a man that made it a joy to work for the organisation that I do. He'll be massively missed.

  5. Thank you all so much for the beautiful comments it will mean so much to the family. I remember growing up and being around the house, he was extremely knowledgable about astronomy. He set up the telescope so we could see the plannets & stars, it was truly amazing. I will always hold these precious memories dear cousin. X

  6. Thanks for your blog Mark as we didn't know. We are devastated to hear of Colin death. He was a good friend to the EWA project as he designed our wonderful EWA logo, which people can see at After the briefest of details from me on a Tuesday evening after an Oxfordshire Atlas meeting in which I said it had to be a Sooty Tern and somehow link birds and culture, Colin went away to think. He rang me with an idea around tattoos on the Friday. On the Monday morning he sent me a powerpoint file with a load of options including the one we adopted, and which I has on my shoulder in 2015. This was typical of Colin; hugely generous in giving up his time to help others in support of the birds and their conservation.

  7. I was lucky enough to be allocated the desk next to Colin's when I volunteered at the reserve office at Otmoor. He was such a source of knowledge; one of our last contacts with him was on 3 July when he identified a little pebble as a fossilised coral. It's hard to think of familiar places without him. He was kind, funny and seemed indestructible - it's so sad that that wasn't the case.

  8. Thanks for posting Mark.
    Colin was a regular contact in the early days of Rutland Water and immense help. He made a huge contribution to conservation in the region
    Rest in Peace Colin

  9. I was lucky enough to work with Colin on the Trent Valley for a large scale funding bid we collaborated. Such a clever, kind man who taught me so much and was a delight to work with. Dedicated, quietly passionate and funny. I am so very sad to hear he has left us. He made a massive contribution to nature restoration and to me was just a good soul. Will think of you often Colin x Nga mini nui e hoa. Angela

  10. Thanks for posting this Mark - somehow missed this tragic news until now, and Googling his name after finding out this came up in the search results. Still in shock. I only met Colin a handful of times so only really knew what a great bloke he was by reputation. Your great tribute and the lovely comments make clear why he was so admired and respected. My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues in the RSPB and the conservation community.

    I noticed, but had forgotten, that the illustration on the new Swifts in a Tower was by him. What a talent. RIP Colin.

  11. Both Brian and I are very sad to hear this news as we have both met him as Aylesbury Group Leaders and when I visited the Banbury Office to meet with Rachel about school talks . Colin was very helpful in providing information for the Thame Green Living Plan which has now been adopted by the Thame Town Council in an unanimous vote...and I had wanted to tell him this.
    Our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.


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