Tony Tynan obituary

Other lives: Curator of the Hancock Museum in Newcastle

Tony Tynan, my university colleague and friend of 60 years, who has died aged 88, was curator of the Hancock Museum in Newcastle, which is owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria and managed by Newcastle University.

With enterprise, flair and touches of humour, he led the museum from 1958 for 35 years and revolutionised its galleries, capturing the public’s imagination in exhibitions that retained a wealth of specimens – a feature many modern museums have lost.

He had boundless energy and, with the help of like-minded enthusiasts, in 1962 he founded the Northumberland and Durham Naturalists’ Trust, and then in 1971 its offspring the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. Tony was honorary secretary of the consecutive trusts for 38 years, and, with a wide network of contacts in the overlapping voluntary nature conservation, national parks and museums worlds, oversaw the two trusts’ vigorous growth.

In the early days, when statutory protection of nature conservation sites was not well developed, Tony saw reserve acquisition as the first priority. This was the only way the protection of valuable sites could be ensured – how to manage them would have to come later.

By a variety of means the new trust built up its reserve portfolio, sometimes as a result of casual conversations between Tony and fellow passengers on trains returning from King’s Cross after meetings of the growing network of wildlife trusts. Contacts with the Forestry Commission, with its extensive Northumberland properties including Kielder Forest, resulted in another suite of nature reserves.

In addition, he was very proud when in 1999 the Northumberland Trust was able to purchase Whitelee Moor on the Scottish Border, at 1,500 hectares (3,705 acres) the largest wildlife trust reserve in England, and remarkable for its undamaged blanket bog.

He will be best remembered, however, for promoting the series of coastal reserves at Druridge Bay, and especially for pioneering creative wetland conservation there after opencast coal working had ceased, a concept catalysed by the trust’s prizewinning wetland at the Gateshead Garden festival site in 1990. Last year he was able to celebrate the opening of the splendid new Hauxley Wildlife Discovery centre on Druridge Bay, a testament to his vision and enthusiasm for nature.

Born in York, to William Tynan, a mental health nurse, and his wife, Edith (nee Clarke), Tony went to Mount St Mary’s college, Sheffield, and Nunthorpe grammar school, York, and then studied natural sciences at Reading University. His first job was at Maidstone Museum in Kent (1954-56); he then spent two years as assistant keeper of geology, National Museum of Wales, in Cardiff, before moving to Northumberland in 1958 to become Curator of the Hancock Museum, from which he retired in 1992.

He is survived by his wife, Karen (nee Kendrick), whom he married in 1987, his four children, Charlie, Cathy, Nick and Steve, from his marriage to Maureen (nee Charter), which ended in divorce, and by seven grandchildren.

Angus Lunn

The GuardianTramp

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