Ken Durrant: Inspirational naturalist

Michael Pollitt, obituaries editorAn inspirational naturalist, Ken Durrant, who has died aged 90, gave his nationally-important insect and butterfly collections to the people of Norfolk.Michael Pollitt, obituaries editor

Inspirational naturalist Ken Durrant, who died aged 90 on Wednesday, gave his nationally-important insect and butterfly collections to the people of Norfolk.

He was determined that others would benefit from his passion for insects. It was just two months ago that he presented his collection of more than 17,000 insects to the Castle Museum, Norwich, as an educational resource for future generations.

In 1991, he became only the third recipient of the Sydney Long Medal for services to nature conservation in Norfolk, following in the footsteps of Ted Ellis and Christopher Cadbury. The medal, named in honour of the founder of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, has been presented on seven further occasions.

He was also president, in 1961 and again in 1990, of the Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists' Society, which was established in 1869.

He had been elected a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society in 1960, which was an honour he greatly cherished.

Born in Jetty Street, Cromer, he became fascinated by insects at the age of three while visiting the next-door bake house, Seago's, with his mother. As a schoolboy, he met local naturalist and author Alfred Sarin, whose fossil collections are at the British Museum in London and the Castle Museum, Norwich.

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In September 1938, he joined the GPO as a 14-year-old telegram boy at Cromer, and was paid six shillings (30p) a week, boots and uniform provided. After passing his civil service examination, he started at Dereham as a trainee telephone engineer.

On the day war was declared in 1939, he was sent to Great Yarmouth in charge of 10 automated telephone exchanges. Later he returned to Dereham where he lodged with a family friend and, in 1941, saw his future wife Isobel for the first time. They married at Walsingham in 1944.

Called up in January 1943, he joined the Royal Corps of Signals, landing on D-Day on the Normandy beaches. As he kept his head down, he spotted 11 kinds of butterflies in a "fragrant mass of wild thyme" and collected more samples. It was not the only occasion that he added specimens as he served in France and Germany and Burma. De-mobbed, he returned to Dereham and became responsible for the town's telephone exchange.

He had lost an important part of his insect collection when his home at Roughton Road, Cromer, was bombed in 1940. Nine years later, Mr Durrant, nicknamed "Bugsy" by fellow soldiers, joined the naturalists' society and became joint insect recorder.

By then, his collection stretched to more than 18,000 accessions and he was earning a reputation as one of the country's keenest amateur collectors. He had all 68 native butterflies, including eight extinct species and the only known example of a Norfolk speckled wood butterfly, found at Cromer, before the war.

He was secretary for 13 years, treasurer and also chairman of the Dereham Cage Birds Society. He also judged competitions for more than 40 years and, at one time, his passion was to breed a red canary.

In October 1968 he was appointed to the Dereham Bench and served for 23 years as a JP. He was also awarded the Chief Scout's long service decoration for 40 years' service.

He was warden of Scarning Fen near Dereham for many years until promotion took him to Sheringham in 1972. Then he was asked to help restore Beeston Common back to its former glory and was warden until he retired aged 86.

He had also helped to found the Norfolk Young Naturalists in the 1960s.

His remarkable legacy of an extensive and well-labelled collection of post-war insects was recnetly described by Tony Irwin, curator in natural history, as invaluable.

Mr Durrant leaves a widow, Isobel, three daughters and two sons, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A private funeral will be held, followed by a service of thanks-giving, date to be announced.

Michael Pollitt

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