Trust Remembers Pioneering Conservationist Stella Turk
Naturalist, author and wildlife recorder Stella Turk sparkled with life and poetry and recounted her first wild delight as watching a small fish changing colour in a rock pool when she was seven years old. Captivated by nature from an early age, Stella would go on to pioneer biological recording and despite her gentle nature, campaign tirelessly for the protection of Cornwall’s wildlife.
Cornwall was indeed very fortunate to have Stella Turk. She did ground-breaking work here in the study and recording of Cornish wildlife, but above all she was a kind and inspiring friend to so many people in Cornwall who shared her love of the natural world around us.
In 1972 Stella set up the Cornwall Biological Records Unit aiming to bring together every record of wildlife past or present in the county. At first this was a paper record, but Stella oversaw its computerisation, which would have seemed a bit crazy at the time, but it was successful and it is now managed and developed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust. The database currently holds over six million records and is in regular use providing vital information to scientists, planners, councils, and all who are interested in the natural world.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust Vice-President, Nick Tregenza said,
“Stella was an absolute gem. She did ground-breaking work, but she was totally unassuming, and had time for anyone. She inspired so many with her love of the natural world, and her careful recording of it. She will be greatly missed but we can be very glad that much of her work lives on.”
In 1990 Stella assembled a team of volunteers to record in detail the dolphins stranding on the coast at that time. This turned out to be a result of accidental capture in fishing gear and the findings lead on to observers on fishing boats and changes in fishery regulations. The team is now Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Marine Strandings Network, and is highly respected in the UK and Europe.
Stella recognised the unique biology of the Helford and promoted the creation of the Helford Voluntary Marine Conservation Area, one of the first such marine areas.
In her own words Stella worked “just for the love of studying wildlife”. In Shang-ri La, her small cottage near Camborne in west Cornwall she was surrounded by boxes with labels such as “echinoderms, “Brachiopods” and “flotsam & jetsam coelenterates”. She succeeded her late husband, the eminent naturalist Dr Frank Turk. “We just live in the crevices between the books” said Stella of a life studying and working to protect wildlife.
It can't be me
With an MBE
I don't recognize
Me in this guise.
My Stella Turk
Enjoys her work
And expects no award
As the work is reward.
Cornish natural history
Freshwater, land and sea
Fills my years and months and days
Yet still has mystery.
Each record has a written word, a human voice, a human face
Peopling my life through time as well as over space.
Stella Turk August 2003