Les Stocker, who passed away this week, was a man with a vision - and that vision was to care for and protect our precious natural world.
And in his life he did just that, founding the St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital – Europe’s first, and the world’s busiest, wildlife teaching hospital.
Mr Stocker, his wife, Sue, and son, Colin, started taking in wildlife casualties in 1978.
They soon realised that there was a real need for their services, and the number of sick and injured animals coming to their door grew and grew.
So in 1983 after funding their initial work from savings, the family established Tiggywinkles the charity as we know it today, a state of the art facility which caters for every wild beast or bird, big or small.
And the caring nature of Tiggywinkles is evident in all they do.
Les was one of the most committed passionate people I came to know in the past two deacdes as the Member of Parliament for BuckinghamJohn Bercow MP
Laying out their aims on the hospital’s website they say: “Every animal is given a chance, we only ever use euthanasia as a last resort.
“Any animal or bird unable to be released back into the wild is maintained by the hospital.”
And as Tiggywinkles grew in size and stature at its Haddenham base, so too did interest in the pioneering work.
Members of the public can now go and visit the centre, see the animals and find out more about the work of Tiggywinkles at the hospital’s visitors centre.
And aside from his tireless work at Tiggywinkles, Les penned books on animal issues, as well as a weekly column for this newspaper. The penultimate column appears this week and his final piece will be published next week with the blessing of his family.
Among his many achievements he was honoured with an MBE by The Queen in 1991, became an honorary associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, was given the title of Rolex Laureate and was an invited member of the New York Academy of Science.
Llewelyn Lowen, from the RSPCA’s wildlife department, said: “Everyone at the RSPCA is very sad to hear of the death of Les Stocker and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time. Thanks to his passion for wildlife, thousands, upon thousands of wild animals have been helped, rehabilitated and many released back into the wild.
“For decades he was an inspiration to wildlife staff and volunteers around the world and raised huge awareness of the vital work of those who dedicate their lives to the challenging, complex but often joyous work of rehabilitating wild animals.”
John Bercow, MP for Buckingham and Speaker of the House of Commons, said: “I was extremely saddened to hear of the death of Les Stocker.
“Les was one of the most committed, passionate people I came to know in the past two decades as the Member of Parliament for Buckingham. He helped put Haddenham on the map with St Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital which is known internationally.
“As well as being one of the largest employers in Haddenham and helping countless numbers of animals, generations of young people visiting the centre have benefited from Les’ work and have been inspired to take an interest in – and work towards helping – the natural environment and its wildlife.
“My thoughts go out to Sue, Colin and the rest of the family as well as to everyone at St Tiggywinkles. This week, we have lost one of Buckinghamshire’s greatest ambassadors and one of the country’s finest champions for animal welfare”.
Martin Tett, leader of Bucks County Council, said: “Les Stocker has made a fantastic contribution to the preservation of wildlife in this country, and is nationally known and respected.
“I am genuinely sad to hear this news.”
MP for Aylesbury, David Lidington, said: “This is a very great loss. Tiggywinkles would never have existed without his initiative and commitment. I have been there with my children when we have found injured animals on occasions and it is clear that these animals receive nothing but the very best. This is a very great loss.”
Councillor Neil Blake, leader of Aylesbury Vale District Council, said: “I was very saddened to hear of the loss of Les Stocker. My condolences go out to his family and many friends.
“He did a tremendous amount of work for wildlife preservation, initially locally and then nationwide.
“He has a great team at Tiggywinkles and I know they will continue the marvellous work as a legacy to him. I’m sure they will work with the same dedication to the cause as he had.”
If you would like to find out more about Les and the work of the hospital please visit www.tiggywinkles.com