Broads pioneer dies

PUBLISHED: 09:52 12 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:23 30 June 2010

A revolutionary approach to practical environmental management was steered to success by a man with a huge vision for the Broads, Matthew Aitken Clark, who has died aged 74, after a short illness.

A revolutionary approach to practical environmental management was steered to success by a man with a huge vision for the Broads, Matthew Aitken Clark, who has died aged 74, after a short illness.

His strategy of paying incentives for conservation was accepted by Whitehall and led to the greening of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy. And it was a watershed as the Ministry of Agriculture's pioneering Broads Grazing Marsh Conservation Scheme in 1985 was a conspicuous success.

Prof Clark also effectively defused the “Halvergate Marshes” issue which eventually led to the creation of a modern Broads Authority, which has made great progress in reversing environmental damage caused over decades.

When Prof Clark was appointed as the Broads Officer in May 1979, he had never visited the area although he had lived in Cambridge and had an interest in sailing.

He had to lead 26 members, representing eight local authorities, the then Countryside Commission, Anglian Water Authority and the Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners.

In July 1988, the former chief officer and principal adviser became the chief executive of the new Broads Authority after a four-strong shortlist had been interviewed.

His style - always prepared to listen and a steely determination to forge a lasting consensus - has delivered lasting results. With his great diplomatic skills, he won respect from all interests and managed to secure lasting agreement.

He was made an OBE in 1998 and the next year won the Delta D'Oro Award for European Conservation.

He led efforts to restore Barton Broad between 1995 and 2001 and the £3m project transformed a dying broad into one of the most popular sailing areas in the area. He also restored Mutford Lock, Broadland's second gateway to the sea, at Oulton Broad.

He commissioned the first passenger solar powered boat to give educational trips on Barton Broad.

Born and brought up in Lanarkshire, Matthew Aitken was the oldest of four children. He studied at night school and graduated in architecture and regional planning at the London School of Economics.

He worked for the Great London Council with its environmental studies research group and then on the operational side, with planning responsibility for five boroughs .

He worked in Italy and the United States for four years, where he set up a research team at South Carolina's State University. When the Broads post was advertised, he was one of the first to apply.

He helped to establish the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities, and set its strategy for the future.

Over the years he became an influential figure in Europe's protected areas and president of the Europarc Federation, the voice of Europe's nature and national parks, from 1990 to 1996.

He held a string of other advisory posts but, after retiring from the Broads Authority in 2001, he immersed himself in Europarc's work, becoming chairman of the funding commission. In 2005 he was awarded the Europarc Federation Alfred Toepfer Medal for service to the nature and national parks of Europe.

A great supporter of the Broads wherries, in retirement he became chairman of the Wherry Yacht Charter Charitable Trust and its craft Hathor, Norada and Olive.

A former chairman of the Broads Authority, Lady Knollys, paid tribute to an “outstanding chief executive and a true statesman”.

“He leaves the Broads a rich legacy. He will be greatly missed,” she added.

Professor Clark leaves a widow, Frances, son, Geoffrey and daughter Catriona. Funeral arrangements to be announced.

Michael Pollitt

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