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Department of Plant Sciences

Professor Oliver Rackham 1939-2015

The Department is saddened and shocked by the news of the death of Professor Oliver Rackham OBE, FBA. Oliver had a long-standing association with the Department, and once held the post of Demonstrator. As a Fellow of Corpus Christi College he became renowned for his insights into the historical ecology of the English countryside, as well as his expertise in Mediterranean vegetation and as a conservation campaigner.

His many books include the landmark "History of the English Countryside", updated as a popular illustrated version, as well as the 100th volume in the Collins New Naturalist series ("Woodlands"). Most recently he produced a volume on "The Ash Tree" (Little Toller Monographs). From a Departmental perspective, Oliver was still contributing to Part II lectures in historical ecology, and his field excursions to local woodlands, where he cut his teeth as an ecologist (Buff Wood, Gamlingay, Hayley Wood), were keenly anticipated. In the recent past he had also helped out on Mediterranean field courses. His text on "The Nature of the Mediterranean Landscape- an Ecological History" with A.T. Grove, Yale University Press) is required reading for those of us leading each year’s course to Portugal.

We were proud to be associated with his nomination for a Professorship awarded by the University of Cambridge (muntjak venison was consumed during a celebratory meal- consistent with his widely reported views on the ecological dangers of excess deer). It is also notable that he also held the appointment of Master of Corpus Christi - during that tenure, your correspondent noted how papers seemed to occupy the floor of his office, whilst his sandals held pride of place on the desk! I am sure I will be joined by many generations of students and staff who will mourn the passing of this remarkable character.

Written by Howard Griffiths