Wednesday, 15 October 2014


A FORMER Horncastle schoolboy has pursued a successful international career - despite suffering a catastrophic injury when he was shot during a holiday in Guatemala.

The  life-changing experience for Dr Stuart Butchart came on New Years Day in 2001.

"As I was  birdwatching in a nature reserve  with a girlfriend, we  were confronted by four  bandits,"he said."We turned to run, but I was shot in the back."

The bullet  penetrated his rucksack and caused irreversible damage to his spinal nerve.

As the 28-year-old lay on the ground, in shock and unable to move, one of the thugs stole everything of value, including his watch and a ring from  his thumb.

His girlfriend was able to escape and raise the alarm, and, after a terrible hour on his own, Stuart was carried by villagers to a clinic, thence to be flown to a jhospital in Houston, Texas,  where he was told the grim news - he would never walk again.

Stuart, an ex-pupil of Horncastle's  Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, only touched briefly on the incident when he was guest speaker at the annual meeting of Lincolnshire Bird Club at Horncastle's Admiral Rodney Hotel (on March 18, 2014).

Instead the father-of-one  focused on his  work at the Cambridge-based nature conservation organisation, BirdLife International, where he is head of science.

The charity  focuses much of its work on seeking to ensure a future for some 200 critically endangered species that are on the brink of extinction - the likes of the hooded grebe, sociable lapwing, Puerto Rican nightjar  and New Zealand storm petrel - in the face of  climate change, human population increase and loss of habitat.

"You have to be a blind optimist to work in nature conservation,"he said. "It's a never-ending war, but you strive to win a few battles along the way."

Among species saved from extinction, at least for the time being, have been the black robin, the Mauritius parakeet, the Raratonga monarch and the Lear's macaw.

Stuart  revealed that his introduction to birdwatching came, aged six, when he was shown a spotted flycatcher by his grandfather, and  his growing interest was later encouraged by his QEGS biology teacher, Robert Carr, who was a keen birder and took pupils on field trips.

He lamented that some native species, such as the turtle dove, which was common when he was a boy, had now declined in the UK  by 90 per cent - partly because of intensive agriculture and partly because many are shot for sport on their migration through Mediterranean countries.

Despite  being restricted to a wheelchair, Stuart still travels the world , sometimes to remote places in Africa and Asia, never allowing himself to be deterred by jungle, marshland, mountains or other wheelchair-hostile terrain.

As his illustrations revealed, he  has even snorkelled among whales in freezing waters off Norway!

However, his most remarkable wildlife experience came in  Rwanda when he encountered mountain gorillas.

"It was an incredibly moving experience," he said. "One of them was so fascinated by my wheelchair that she came up and touched both the wheel and one of my toes.

"It is something I will never forget."

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