Obituary: Jane Kemp, conservationist

Jane Kemp, who has died at 92, was a pioneering conservationist who was at the heart of successful campaigns to restore natural habitats at
Jane KempJane Kemp
Jane Kemp

Jane Kemp, who has died at 92, was a pioneering conservationist who was at the heart of successful campaigns to restore natural habitats at

Snaizeholme, near Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales.

Last summer she was featured – surrounded by the red squirrels that are now synonymous with the area – in a TV programme about life in upper Wensleydale.

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The village in which she and her late husband, Hugh, made their home was open fellside before they arrived in the mid-1960s, to raise two sons in initially basic conditions.

Originally planting conifers for timber and the Christmas tree market, the couple witnessed red squirrels moving in from the Lake District, and the resultant flourishing of an abundance of wildlife, from crossbills, roe deer and even suspected pine marten.

Jane’s great love for birds led to her recording the valley’s avian life, including curlew, woodcock, black grouse, teal and redstarts. For years she fed demanding squirrels, pheasants and ducks by hand, so that they would congregate around her. She ensured that a field stronghold of wild orchids remained unplanted with trees, and reintroduced deciduous trees, once conifers had been felled.

She was also the backbone of the Kemps’ holiday cottage business, which saw them convert and rent out first old barns and then cottages in nearby Gayle, as well as a tall Victorian terrace house near York Minster. Jane furnished them all through skilful purchasing at local auctions, and recalled furnishing a whole house for £100 in the Seventies.

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Born in 1929, she was the youngest child of Lenny and Carol Crockett, and was raised in the rural idyll of Quinton Rising in Northamptonshire, where she developed her love for nature – often rising at 5am to explore and see in the dawn with her brother, David.

But an uninhibited childhood of climbing trees, walking and riding, came to an abrupt end in 1938 when her father was badly injured in a fire. When war came, the family moved out to make their home available for evacuees, and during the holidays, Jane helped her mother pack parcels for prisoners of war.

After a spell as head girl at Overstone Park School in Northamptonshire, she studied at the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford, where she met Hugh – though he would marry, have a son and move to Mull in the Scottish Highlands before they eventually got together some years later.

Meanwhile, Jane moved to London to live with her sister, Rosemary, and then her mother, with a spell working for a school in the New Forest, a London restaurant and eventually at Portsonachan by Loch Awe in Scotland.

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In 1961 she went out to live in Sudan for two years, teaching art and other subjects at a Church of England school in the capital and playing tennis while the thermometer reached 120 degrees in the shade.

Back in England, she met Hugh again and in 1965, after a time renovating houses in Kent, they married and embarked upon their much bigger project in Snaizeholme, overlooked by the Pennine Way. Over time she became a bird expert and did survey work for the British Trust for Ornithology. Her passion was infectious and she persuaded Hugh to increase the range of woodland habitats to encourage birds and other wildlife. Their land became a Yorkshire Naturalists’ (later Wildlife) Trust reserve and later the haven for red squirrels it is now.

Jane loved first riding and swimming, skiing in Austria, painting, sculpture, visiting Ireland regularly, and birdwatching. She was a brilliant artist but hid her artistic ability in order to avoid overshadowing Hugh, a prolific artist.

He died 10 years ago and Jane is survived by her sons, David and Magnus, stepson Chris, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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