HISTORY OF STOKE GIFFORD
Edited by Adrian Kerton
The Davis Family at Little Stoke
Photographs,© Howard Davis
Founder member of the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust
Hon. Secretary –
Bristol Naturalists’ Society later its President.
President – Bristol Naturalist’s Society and Hon. Life Member
Vice-President – Ornithological Section of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, and Hon. Life Member
On the 7th January 1974 at Almondsbury Church, Sir Peter Scott delivered a
Tribute to Howard Davis. See Below
The Family at the Farmhouse c. 1910
The Witchell Ladies
Emma (nee Willcox) & Sidney Benjamin Witchell. They lived at Little Stoke Farm, prior to Edward Henry Davis, father of Howard Davis. Sidney died in 1895 and Edward took over the farm – see valuation document. Emma was the daughter of Joseph and Ann Willcox of Callicroft Farm, Patchway. Joseph was a brother of Mary Witchell (nee Willcox) of Field Farm. Both were born in Butcombe. Emma and Sidney were therefore first cousins – not an uncommon pairing in agricultural circles in those days. Emma’s mother Ann was married twice. Her first husband was Edward Davis, from Pill. He was my father’s (Howard Davis) great grandfather. Her father, James Davis, and Edward’s father, William Davis (butcher from Pill) were brothers – cousins marrying again.
Henry Davis, Howard Davis’ Grandfather who farmed at Pensford
SIR PETER SCOTT’S TRIBUTE TO HOWARD DAVIS
AT ALMONDSBURY CHURCH 7 JANUARY 1974
Perhaps it was more of a coincidence than anything else – or perhaps it wasn’t – the letter that set in train a sequence which altered the whole pattern of my life, and has made me, for 28 years, deeply grateful to the man who wrote it.
In 1945 Howard Davis wrote to me, ‘out of the blue’, telling me about the wild geese that spent each winter at the New Grounds on the Severn Estuary, and how they had fared during the war that had just ended. Not long before the war I had been to see the geese there, and he knew that I’d be interested. He said that if I wanted to see them again he’d be ready to take me to the best place for watching them. And so, on a day in December 1945 we met on the canal bridge at Slimbridge, and spent the two days of a weekend watching geese. On the second day it was Howard who first spotted a Lesser White-fronted Goose – only the second official record for the species in Britain – the first having been in 1886. Later in the day we spotted a second Lesser Whitefront, and altogether seven species of geese were present in the flock. For me it was a momentous day. I had made up my mind that Slimbridge would be the ideal place to set up the Bird Organisation I had been dreaming of all through the war. And so it has proved. A year later Howard Davis was one of five people who met. at Shepherd’s Patch at Slimbridge to form The Wildfowl Trust, and who became the first members of its Council. As Council Member, and later as Trustee, he served the Wildfowl Trust enthusiastically and loyally for 27 years. I am deeply grateful for his help and encouragement during that time – and there were early days when the organisation passed through very difficult times. But there’s something which makes me even more grateful for that letter of long ago. It is that Slimbridge, as some of you will know, is my home. I have no other, and I love it greatly. That too I owe to my old friend Howard Davis.
In the days I have been talking about Howard was farming at Little Stoke – and a very successful farmer he was – but his heart was in his interest in nature, and particularly birds: And being the responsible man he was, he became involved in the organisation of many other societies besides the Wildfowl Trust. Perhaps his most important service was to the Bristol Naturalists’ Society, which he had joined in 1932. From 1937 – 1953 he was Hon. Secretary of its Ornithological Section and later its President. He first became President of the Parent Society for the years 1950 and 51. The Bristol Naturalists’ Society honoured him again in 1962 by electing him President during the Society’s Centenary year. He was elected an Hon. Life Member two years later. He was also a Vice-President of the Ornithological Section of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, and was elected an Hon. Life Member of that too.
To give you some idea of his range of energetic activity in the field of Wild Life and Natural History, he served on governing bodies of the British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Ornithologists’ Union, the Gloucestershire Trust for Nature Conservation and the Somerset Trust for Nature Conservation. He was a founder member of the last two, and he was also a member of the Fauna Preservation Society, the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, and, for a period, of the Zoological Society of London.
I think it is worth mentioning how much these many societies have achieved, not only in providing education and recreation for vast numbers of people, but also in saving for future generations the natural world which holds so much of significance for human survival. Many are active in essential research, and most of them in Conservation. Howard’s participation in these activities was, I believe, important for their success. Having sat with him round a table for so many years, I can say that his contribution to such work, was always wise, constructive and practical.
In the last few years he was afflicted, as most of you will know, with Parkinson’s Disease, and probably only his family can really measure the degree of fortitude he displayed in coming to terms with that illness. I only talked once with him about it and was amazed at his courage and good cheer in face of it. And now, on 2nd January, in his 76th year, he has died – of a heart attack which was perhaps merciful, as he did not have to endure the final stages of his long illness.
All of those of us who knew him must feel enriched by having done so. I like to remember him best when we were excitedly watching wild geese together; and I am happy to have had this opportunity to pay my tribute to the memory of a fine man and a greatly valued friend.