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Kathy Henderson

Kathy Henderson 6.9.54 – 12.7.21

Kathy in Romania 2011

Kathy in Romania 2011

Kathy passed away peacefully on July 12th 2021 after a three year battle with cancer. Many friends have told me that they hadn’t realised she was ill – such was her determination not to let the disease defeat her.

Her spirit and enthusiasm for the natural world was irrepressible, as the many participants in the EuCAN conservation trips to Europe and visitors to Alners Gorse Butterfly Reserve will bear witness.

Kathy took her zoology degree at Exeter University and was subsequently involved in water vole and otter survey work in Somerset before attending Wye College to do an MSc. She then ended up living on a smallholding in Kent until she moved to Dorset in the late 90’s with her two children, Helen and Peter. She spent several years working as a furniture restorer and gardener but after Alners Gorse Reserve was established in 2005, she became closely involved in the management there using her tough little pony ‘Small’ to haul logs while the forest clearance work was taking place, and regularly doing the transect walks on Alners and adjacent Rooksmoor. Her transects used to take twice as long as everyone else’s as she was determined to identify and count all the bumble bees as well as the butterflies.

Our EuCAN conservation visits to our partner organisations in Europe between 2006 and 2016 brought us into contact with well over 300 different people from the UK, amateurs and professionals, young and old, and a great range of naturalists in many countries of the EU. Apart from her growing botanical and entomological skills, Kathy’s picnics were legendary. Perhaps the most memorable were the lunches on the way back to the ferry from La Brenne in central France when she always organised an amazing tarte aux fruits bought from the bakery in Mézières early on the final morning – not to mention the cheeses, pates and locally grown smoked carp!

Kathy was a great believer in working in harmony with nature and using the products of the countryside to the full – this principle was the basis of the crafts she developed and the horticultural activities she involved herself in – she was closely involved in the woodland crafts courses that we ran for Butterfly Conservation Dorset on Alners Gorse in 2006/07 and the vegetable dyeing, yurt building, charcoal making and fungi courses there funded by the AONB. She purchased a small patch of land with stables near Bishops Caundle where she developed a workshop for her spinning and dyeing courses and wood-turning activities, and where we put up a polytunnel for her to bring on wildflower plants from locally sourced seed to help to increase the diversity of the parcels of grassland that we were trying to improve.

Throughout her life, Kathy was never far from her beloved equines and in 2012 was able to acquire four elderly Dartmoor mares for BC Dorset to graze on our Butterfly reserves and the land on Rooksmoor adjacent to Alners Gorse. The care of these four animals was undertaken entirely by Kathy with the help of her daughter Helen. When old Holly died in 2014, Kathy arranged to adopt two coloured ponies found abandoned (with many other ponies, cattle and sheep) on Bodmin Moor. When they arrived at Alners, these two, Blaze and Star, were in a terrible state but after a short time they were in rude health! Blaze is now a very fine healthy riding pony and Star is well known on Alners for being the leader of the herd and is now trained to take a head collar and is used to lead the other three, Blackberry, Scarface and Clara, when they have to be moved.

Two stories to end on which illustrate very different aspects of her spirited attitude to life and the world around her. A few years ago, a family a few doors down from us replaced their kitchen units and set fire to the old ones in their garden, creating a great pall of black smoke from the burning plastic-coated chipboard. Kathy was round there in a flash, calmly asking the owner whether she had any care for the future of her children; this nearly led to fisticuffs (and the fire wasn’t put out!).

And she has left behind in her polytunnel where she tended her wildflower seedlings and a bed full of flowers to attract pollinators, some wooden staging and wooden plant supports carefully drilled with holes and labelled in pencil, where the solitary bees have made their nests – Osmia rufa, the Mason Bee, and one of the Leafcutter bees, Megachile sp. and possibly others. They will emerge in spring this year!

Kathy and Vanity

Kathy and Vanity