John Gooders, who did more than most to broaden the horizons of Britain’s birdwatchers, died on 18th May 2010 after a long illness, aged 73. He was a prolific author and his books guided many of us in learning about birds. I first knew of John in 1970 as I collected Birds of the World in weekly instalments – and with it I got my paperback copy of his classic Where to Watch Birds (published in 1967, the first of his 40 bird books). These opened up a lifetime’s interest for me.
WtWB was an instant hit. Birdwatching was becoming a mass-participation pursuit and here was a guide to the key sites in Britain where people could find the birds that they had only seen in field guides. This pioneering work preceded the glut of site guides that now dominate the birding publication lists; it was followed by Where to Watch Birds in Britain and Europe in 1970. Forty years ago, this was a DIY guide to the Camargue, the Coto DoÃ±ana, the Danube Delta and beyond. Britain’s travelling birders never looked back.
Between 1959 and 1966 John taught in London schools, and then became a lecturer at the Avery Hill teacher training college until 1969. With the success of his first book, however, John took the brave decision to leave his safe career in teaching and venture into full-time writing. For two months in 1970 he was able to study bird migration in North Africa as a result of a Churchill Fellowship. He worked on scripts for Anglia Television’s Survival series and edited its house magazine, The World of Survival. He also worked on the BBC series The World About Us. During the 1970s he wrote 19 bird books and in the 1980s another 14. Sourcing bird photos for his various publishing projects led him to establish the photographic library Ardea with his first wife, Su. It now holds hundreds of thousands of digital images and transparencies, the work of leading photographers throughout the world.
Having whetted the appetite of birders keen to travel beyond Britain, Gooders formed his own travel company in 1980 with his second wife, Robbie. Birding Tours operated for the next 23 years on every continent bar Antarctica. He firmly believed that ecotourism helped to conserve the wildlife that the travellers want to see.
I met John for the first time, when I came to Rye Harbour in 1984 and he brought his ‘Birding’ guests to watch the birds. In 1988 he made a series of films about his special birdwatching places for TVS and I was pleased that he chose Rye Harbour, among others. When John and Robbie moved to Winchelsea in 1990, they became more regular visitors, and in 1998 he became Chairman of the Friends. For ten years we worked together on many projects that have made a big difference to the wildlife and to the visitors… and the membership almost doubled to 1,800. This was not his only direct contribution to conservation, for he also raised funds for towers specially designed for the increasingly rare Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni to nest in, in Portugal and southern France.
For his last 20 years John was a resident of Winchelsea, one the country’s smallest towns still with its own mayor and part of the ancient Cinque Ports Federation. He was installed as mayor in 2006, joining a list of holders of that office dating back to the twelfth century.