John Burkett


PIONEERING rocket engineer and wildlife champion John H Burkett of Hough-on-the-Hill has died in Glenfield Hospital aged 82.

Mr Burkett, who ran a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre for the last 60 years with his wife Molly, was a life-long falconer and an engineer.

The rehabilitation centre, originally in Hampshire, moved to Lincolnshire in 1969. It was the longest-running of any such centre and possibly the oldest privately-run wildlife charity in the world.

The centre received many of the birds from the Torrey Canyon disaster and much experimental work was done at the centre in determining methods for the survival for a range of sea birds. Amongst other work, the centre was involved in the breeding programme for the ravens at the Tower of London.

John had a life-long fascination with falconry and trained many birds. He also cared for a crow which had a part in Run Wild Run Free with Mark Lester and an eagle owl which appeared in All Creatures Great and Small.

John was a regular contributor to television programmes, particularly in the late 1950’s.

In one of his first appearances, the smooth snake John had taken to the studio escaped from his pocket. When the camera panned to Patrick Moore in the next cubicle, the snake could be seen on the globe he was using. Moore carried on as if nothing was amiss.

Johnny Morris was another colleague, who made a number of visits to the centre.

When nuclear dumping was first proposed, John, always a keen supporter of environmental issues, became chairman of Lincs and Notts Against Nuclear Dumping, being branded the first NIMBY.

John was born and raised in New Eltham and stayed in London through the war. He kept a ‘doodlebug diary’ and more than once returned home to find the doors and windows of his house gone. He went to the emergency school in Deptford, where he was educated by staff who were mainly retired professors, as teachers had largely been evacuated with their schools. He later secured a Short Service Commission in the RAF.

Afterwards, he joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough as a student and progressed to lead a team working on The Blue Streak – the British missile programme designed to deliver a rocket capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The programme 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. His later years found him as a keen committee member of the Cranwell Aeronautical Society, as well as being active in the RAF Association.

John was also an accomplished pianist and organist – he had originally been planning to follow music as a career.

He played a key part in setting up the Conservation Section at the East of England Show and stewarded it for 28 years. He also became a part of the World Conker Championships Committee.

With John’s passing, the wildlife centre will continue to be run by his wife Molly but on a much-reduced scale.

A funeral service for immediate family only was held at Hough-on-the-Hill Church on Friday, followed by burial.

A memorial service is to be held at Hough-on-the-Hill Church on Thursday, June 28 at 11am,