ALBAN WINCOTT - An Obituary


A slightly faded, sepia-tinted photograph of the fourteen-strong Committee of 1977 and 1978 is retained in the Society archive. This committed body of men had worked together for a few years to propel the Leigh Ornithological Society forward into being regarded as a reliable and highly-respected regional organization in terms of bird recording, indoor and outdoor meetings, the production of newsletters and annual reports, and wildlife conservation.


A major priority in the 1970s, and subsequently, was to strive to gain protective status for important sites in our recording area – the mosses at Astley and Risley; the flashes at Hindley, Lightshaw, Pennington and Wigan; a cluster of waters near Bolton; and wooded habitats in the Chorley/Rivington area. Prominent among the Committee stalwarts at this time, in both physical stature and in his infectious determination to enhance the Society's range of activities, was Alban Wincott who sadly passed away on September 26th.

Unmistakably referred to as AWHW in ornithological literature, Alban spent just sixteen years in our area, but his impact here was as important and impressive as it had been before, and was to be later, in his beloved Midlands homeland.

Born in Nuneaton in 1934, Alban's family moved to Attleborough on his third birthday, and it was here that his passion for wildlife flourished. As a sixteen-year-old, in 1952, he was a co-founder of the Nuneaton Birdwatchers' Club and served on its committee for seventeen years. During this time he was a prominent member of the group of local conservation activists who were instrumental in getting the former gravel pits at Brandon designated a reserve as Brandon Marshes.

Upon completion of his National Service in the mid-1950s, Alban had joined Courtaulds Limited, and during this employment he moved to the Manchester area where he soon became immersed in all matters relating to local wildlife. As Honorary Secretary of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust for some years, his main commitment was in conserving and developing sites in Greater Manchester, most notably at Doffcocker and Rumworth: further afield, he had the vision to pave the way for the Trust's purchase of Mere Sands Wood.

Alban's reputation as an enthusiastic supporter of moves to safeguard wetland sites at Bolton brought about an invitation to attend a Committee meeting of our fledgling Society in March, 1974, and thereafter the minutes books illustrate the range of his contributions and suggested initiatives. In the next two years alone he became a slide-show presenter at Members' Evenings; served as Master of Ceremonies at the 1975 Public Film Show and instigator of, and toastmaster at, the first Annual Dinner Dance in the same year; chaired Social Committee meetings and participated in the deliberations of the Bird Records Sub-Committee; and, in 1976, organized a memorable short holiday to Speyside for a few of his Committee colleagues.

Those members of the Society from over a quarter of a century ago, even though they haven't seen Alban for many years, will surely be deeply saddened to learn of his passing away, for he was the kindest of men, an enthusiastic motivator who never expected others to do what he could do himself, and a true friend who endeared himself to all who came to know him by his smiling, courteous and gentle demeanour.

Alban returned to his roots thirty years ago, and a notice in the newsletter of the Nuneaton and District Birdwatchers' Club summarizes his renewed involvement when he left us and returned to his homeland: - “On his return to Warwickshire in 1984, he took up where he left off as an avid member of the club he founded and was appointed Club President. He also returned to his tireless work as a conservation volunteer at Brandon, driving forward many of the projects. He was a speaker at many natural history clubs and we have all sat enthralled by his great photographs, profound knowledge and boyish enthusiasm as he has taken us across Europe and around Brandon with equal aplomb”.

As this autumn approached, and fully aware of the severity of his declining health, Alban requested that three of his contemporaries on the old photograph should perhaps wish to visit him, so that we could share mutual recollections of happier days and so that we could bid each other our final farewells, and, at different times, Peter Guy, Roy Rhodes and myself travelled south and spent enjoyable time with him and Jean. Since that last meeting, I have come across Alban's very first comments at his first Committee meeting, and they display a prophetic tendency in the light of the growing success of the recently-formed Young Birders' group. Even though the group's progress hasn't been identical to Alban's suggestions, it would be an appropriate gesture if his advice came to fruition some day:- Extract from the minutes of the Committee meeting in the Eagle and Hawk Inn, Leigh, on 22nd March, 1974: “Mr. A.W.H.Wincott suggested that active conservation work would be more successful if Junior Members were involved …..... He also suggested making contact with local schools with a view to the possible involvement of pupils in work parties.”

And so, as another great name in the history of our Society leaves the stage, it's important to state that many obituaries and messages of appreciation often exaggerate the qualities of those who have passed away. In Alban Wincott's case, exaggeration is unnecessary, for the simple truth is that he was among the finest of men – an inspiration to many; a dear friend to most; and a colleague who holds a very special place in the history of the LOS and in the hearts of those members who were privileged to spend time in his company.

On behalf of the Society, condolences have already been sent to Jean, Alban's dear wife of fifty years, and she, in turn, will no doubt convey to her immediate family our genuine thoughts of affection for our dear friend and our collective grief at his passing.
Dave Wilson

L.O.S. Founder Member Leads Bickershaw Rucks Walk

Dave Wilson, the man who wrote the book on Pennington Flash and founder member of the L.O.S. led a very interesting walk around the brownfield site which used to be Bickershaw Colliery last week in conjunction with Red Rose Forest.


The trip was organised by Jessica Thompson at Red Rose and a party of sixteen people turned up to be educated and informed about this reclaimed industrial landscape. Good weather favoured us as can be seen in the photos below.

We started off on the 'Road to Nowhere' as it has become known locally - this is tarmaced road leads down into the Rucks from Bickershaw Lane and which was originally intended to lead to a number of new community facilities and resources on the site, but these schemes have stalled or perhaps even been abandoned completely now.  Fortunately for us, this now provides excellent access to the Rucks.

Dave was very keen to stress the different grassland areas which are now home to many species of birds and other animals and which, if not carefully managed, will quickly revert to Birch, Willow and Alder woodlands thus destroying this valuable habitat and reducing the biodiversity in the area.

For example Cuckoos breed here most years because of the availability of suitable 'donor' nesting birds such as Meadow Pipits - if the Meadow Pipits can't nest in the area, the Cuckoos won't come anymore.

There are three main flashes in the area, Diggle, Fir Tree, Tinker Joe's and we could see them all although we didn't approach them closely.

Dave informed why the flash named as Nevison's Flash on the map is known locally as Tinker Joe's due to a resident who used to live by it making cans.





The area does have a problem with 4x4 vehicles, quadbikes and motorbikes causing severe erosion and rutting as well as driving at high speeds and being a danger to walkers and animals.

Although we didn't go out intending to record birds in particular more than 30 species were noted, including a pair of Stonechats, a hovering Kestrel, a Buzzard, many Meadow Pipits, Lapwings and Skylarks and a Water Rail which was heard but not seen.

L.O.S. member Bernard McGurrin regularly records the birds seen at Bickershaw and his reports can be viewed on the Manchester Birding Forum (see web link below).

Several species of fungi were also seen including Fly Agaric, Birch Bolete, Common Earth Ball, and three Cortinarius species.
We had a great morning out and we encourage everyone who has never been to Bickershaw Rucks to go and have a look for themselves - it's well worth it.

No doubt Dave Wilson will be leading another similar trip in the spring when there will be a lot more birds about hopefully including Cuckoos.

Our thanks go out to Dave and Jess.

Photographs (C) David Shallcross 2014

Useful Related Links

Friday Night's Speaker Produced The Goods

Ian Newton's show "ALASKA" was absolutely brilliant. He was very clearly spoken and he presented an hour and fifteen minutes worth of information, humour, and stunning photography.

Ian described himself as a photographer not a birder, but listening to him you wouldn't have thought that for one minute as he was very knowledgeable of his subjects. His photography is superb in every way, the images being crisp and clear.

Thanks Ian for a memorable evening's entertainment.

The L.O.S. Young Birders' Club Presentations Begin

Today three members of our Young Birders' Club team visited Gilded Hollins Primary School in Leigh for their first presentation of the 2014-2015 season. 

The pupils were very responsive and enthusiastic and so the session went really well - you can read all about it here:

AGM - Friday 3rd October

Tomorrow night's meeting at the 180 Club in Railway Road, Leigh is our Annual General Meeting. Items for the agenda should be passed to our Chairman David Shallcross as soon as possible.

This will be followed by a DVD-based presentation entitled 'A Bird for All Seasons" by our friend Gordon Yates. The bar will be open throughout our stay.