Tributes have been paid to the first academic to be appointed as an ecologist at the University of East Anglia.

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Naturalist, biologist and ecologist Robert James, known as Bob, was born in Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley, South Wales, where his father was a coal miner and later trade union official.

After initially reading medicine at Bristol, he moved back and studied in Cardiff and completed degrees in both biology and then zoology, and a PhD including entomology, particularly leaf miners and sandhoppers.

He joined the UEA in 1967, and colleague Tony Davy said: “It is as an inspiring teacher that many generations of UEA students will remember Bob. His lectures were exemplary, always with a strong conceptual basis, and delivered with lively, self-effacing, friendly good humour.

“He could be relied on for a sympathetic ear and sound, objective advice; he always had time for someone with a problem. He was director of the ecology degree course for many years and took pride in knowing all his students personally.”

Following his retirement in 2006, he enjoyed his allotment, planned walks along the north Norfolk coast for a ramblers’ group, and took up cooking.

In a statement, his family said: “The only consolation of his unexpected and untimely death is that his childlike appetite and enthusiasm for life never abated to the end, and he never experienced the physical slowing down of elderly infirmity that would have hindered his daily charge at ripping the most fun out of the outdoors that he used as one big playground.”

He had two sons, Richard and Ceri, with his first wife Edith, who died suddenly in 1995, and is survived by his second wife Margaret, whom he married in 2003, and his grandchildren Lucas, Ben, Lexi and Florence.

Dr James died on March 4, aged 73, and a memorial service was held at Green Acres Woodland Burials in Colney yesterday. The family requested no flowers, but donations to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and British Heart Foundation.

Did you know Dr James? Send your tributes, giving your full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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