Mr J. H. Burkett

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MR John Burkett, of Hough-on-the-Hill, Grantham, has died. He was 82.

For the last 66 years he ran a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre with his wife Molly, and he was a lifelong falconer and an engineer.

He was born and raised in New Eltham, London, and stayed in the city throughout the Second World War as his evacuation family was not a success.

He attended the emergency school in Deptford, where he was educated by staff who were mainly retired professors. Through their love of their subjects Mr Burkett developed a great love of English literature, maths, music, history and geology - interests that stayed with him through his life.

After school he secured a short service commission in the RAF. Afterwards he joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, as a student (achieving HNC), and later progressing to lead a team working on The Blue Streak - the British missile programme designed to deliver a rocket capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and which was abandoned in 1960.

He also worked for the World Wildlife Fund, a job which he loved,

He finished his career designing flame arresters, a device which stops ‘blow-back’ in gas pipelines. All the more remarkable is that he worked full time in a successful career while running the wildlife rehabilitation centre and continuing his interest in falconry as well as aviation.

The rehabilitation centre, originally in Hampshire, moved to Lincolnshire in 1969 and was the longest-running of any such centre. The centre was run by Mr Burkett and his wife, Molly, on their own. There were usually around 300 birds and animals at the centre, recovering from a range of ailments in order to be rehabilitated into the wild. Among other work, the centre was involved in the breeding programme for the ravens at the Tower of London.

He and his wife also acted in an advisory capacity for incidents around the world, including giving advice on the diet of the first panda born in captivity in Madrid Zoo, oiling on a USA beach, as well as advising the Government on the Wild Animals Act (as part of the Control of Wild Animals committee) and Miriam Rothschild on deer.

Mr Burkett had a lifelong fascination with falconry and he trained many of the classic falconry birds during his life. He struck up many friendships through his extensive knowledge of British wildlife and his work with the World Wildlife Fund, many of them well-known for their work with wildlife.

When nuclear dumping was first proposed, Mr Burkett, always a keen supporter of environmental issues, joined and became chairman of LAND (Lincs Against Nuclear Dumping) and had the honour of being, according to a Times editorial of the time, the first NIMBY.

His later years found him as a keen committee member of the Cranwell Aeronautical Society, as well as being active in RAFA (the RAF Assocation).

Mr Burkett was also an accomplished pianist and organist - he had originally been planning to follow music as a career - and retained a love of jazz and all things musical throughout his life.

He had been a key part in setting up the Conservation Section at the East of England Show. He stewarded it for 28 years. Latterly he moved his attentions to being a part of the World Conker Championships committee.

Mr Burkett is remembered as a lovely man, who always had a cheery greeting, a keen sense of humour, and a love of everything in life, as well as for his huge knowledge of wildlife. He was a true gentleman who had a wonderful schoolboy sense of humour and a mischievous streak: a great people person, widely read and very knowledgeable across a broad spectrum and who was blessed with an excellent memory to the end - he was interested in everything.

He is survived by Molly, children St John and Sophie and grandchildren Seth and Kizzie.

A private family funeral has taken place, but a memorial service will be held at Hough on the Hill Church on Thursday, June 28 at 11am.