Julie Stobbs (née Gaman)

  College: Graduate Society
  Subject: Ecology
  Class of: 1970

I was delighted to receive an invitation from the University's Alumni Office to attend the Winter Congregation in order to celebrate the golden anniversary of my graduation in 1970. Living in West Rainton, only five miles from the city, and being free on January 9th there was every reason why I decided to attend. There were only 17 “golden oldies” there, none of whom I had known previously but it was a most enjoyable afternoon and quite moving as we processed down the nave of the Cathedral to wonderful music following Chancellor Sir Thomas Allen’s excellent speech.

Originally from Birmingham I attended the Mount School, York and then went on to Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology, as it was then called, to do an external London degree. My interest in Ecology had grown and on graduation I applied to Durham to do the M.Sc. Ecology course which that year was run by the late David Bellamy. As he had done an external London degree himself, and recognised that it wasn’t the easiest course to do as your examiners were unknown to you and there was therefore no opportunity for ‘question spotting’, he readily accepted me. That was in 1969 and, apart from a period of a year working for the Nature Conservancy in Bangor, North Wales, I have been in the North East ever since.

Returning to Durham from Bangor it was David Bellamy who told me about an advertised position working for the Horticultural Officer at the University on the technical development of the new Botanic Garden. My application for this was successful and I stayed for two and a half years. Whilst there I got involved as a volunteer with Durham Wildlife Trust and my application for the first paid post with that organisation was successful. I stayed there for sixteen years, leaving in 1990 by which time my title was Conservation Director. There is not space to enumerate the many and varied tasks that I had to undertake but on the administrative side I learnt a great deal from Dame Enid Russell-Smith who was Chair for the first three years of my employment. Previously she had been Principal of St. Aidan’s College as some older alumni may remember.

David Bellamy was a fantastic ambassador for the cause of nature conservation throughout my employment with the Trust and I have many fond memories of working with him on different projects. His imaginative ideas included the Country and Forest Workshops which we ran jointly with the Forestry Commission at Hamsterley Forest at which visitors could try their hands at all sorts of activities and David’s own role was to run “plodgey nature trails” for children every hour in the Bedburn Beck. In 1985 the Durham Trust was fortunate to be selected as one of twelve County Trusts to host a talk by Sir David Attenborough. This was held at the Sunderland Empire Theatre on Bonfire Night and David Attenborough was introduced by his colleague David Bellamy. As well as organising the arrangements for the day I was privileged to act as the driver for David Attenborough. My job was certainly diverse!

In 1991 I commenced work with Durham County Council, leaving in 2005 by which time I had been promoted to the post of County Ecologist. As with my employment with the Trust it was fantastically busy but was always interesting and I felt worthwhile in espousing the cause of nature conservation in which I am a passionate believer. From 2005 the only paid work that I have undertaken has been on a freelance basis, mainly consisting of undertaking botanical surveys.

Coming from a sporty family (my mother taught PE and my father who was 6’7” tall played badminton until he was 85) sport has always been important to me, particularly tennis which I still play on a restricted basis. I remember playing tennis for the University while undertaking my M.Sc. when we reached the semi-finals of the Wivab (Womens Inter-Varsity Athletic Board) tournament which we played, and lost, at Keele University. In later years I was a member of the Staff Badminton Club at the University for whom I also played in matches. Being 6’2” myself there are some situations where height can be an advantage!

My other main interest is music, both singing and instrumental. Way back I have good memories of singing in Durham University Choral Society when the conductor was Brian Primmer. Later on I have sung in other choirs including the Durham Singers and my husband and I met through our early music interests of playing recorders and viols. Viol playing is a slightly specialised interest and during our travels in different continents we have had the pleasure of playing in Canada, Capetown, Australia and New Zealand. I once wrote an article for the magazine entitled ‘The Viol’ on the pleasures of international networking through viol playing. We have certainly made a lot of friends through this combined interest and often welcome people to our house to play.

There is no question that undertaking a post-graduate qualification at Durham helped me in my search for jobs. I am now a Vice-president of Durham Wildlife Trust and during my employment with them, when the former Lord Barnard was president, I was privileged to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace. Environmental work now is mainly limited to a small amount of writing and I am also an active member of our village Green Group. At the great age of 70 my husband and I bought e-bikes and take every opportunity to see the countryside that way. My time at Durham University certainly placed me in good stead for a busy and interesting life.

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