Swansea Friends of the Earth Remembers Andrew Lees

Andrew Lees was an extraordinary and inspiring campaigner who tragically died while working to preserve the rainforest in Madagascar. He is well remembered in our area for the outstanding work he did at the beginning of his campaigning career. In 1981 he was instrumental in obtaining permission from the courts to take up a Judicial Review of the Nature Conservancy Council failure to give protection to part of Crymlyn Bog as an SSSI. The NCC caved in and the site got its protected status. He also carried out an outstanding campaign to save Pant y Sais Fen from becoming a landfill site. Working with local people he persuaded the local council in Neath to compulsorily purchase the site as a nature reserve. It is the only local nature reserve in the UK to have come about this way.

Andrew then went on to pursue a glittering career as an environmental campaigner. Returning to his native Norfolk, in 1982 he helped form Broadland Friends of the Earth, and working as their co-ordinator he achieved a significant victory by saving Norfolk's ecologically important Halvergate Marshes from impending destruction. He stopped the plans to convert them to a barren plain of intensive cereal crops.

In 1985 Andrew became a professional campaigner and joined Friends of the Earth's national staff as the Countryside and Pesticides Campaigner. In this role he undertook pioneering work in the use of the formal complaints procedure to ensure the proper implementation by the British Government of European Community environmental directives. This led to the UK government being convicted of breaches of standards for bathing beach and drinking water.

In 1994, four years after his promotion to FoE's Campaigns Director, Andrew started a campaign to save the remnants of the Madagascan littoral rainforest. These were threatened by the plans of QIT a mining company which was part of the huge Rio Tinto Zinc conglomerate. The company wanted to rip out the forests for a titanium dioxide strip mine.

At one time the unique and highly biodiverse east coast littoral forests of Madagascar covered a large area. They stretched from the island's south-eastern tip off in a northwards direction along the plain on the coast for a length of hundreds of kilometres. They reached out along the island in a marginal belt that was up to thirty kilometres in width. All that remained when Andrew started his campaign were just three fragments of the forest that covered only four thousand hectares. These were concentrated right in the area of the proposed mine. At least two thirds of the remaining forest would have been obliterated if the project went ahead.

Just before Christmas in 1994 Andrew went to Madagascar to do some research and filming for the campaign. On New Years Eve, planned to be the last day of his visit, he went into the forest to get some extra footage and failed to return.

The alarm was raised and an extensive search took place. The news of Andrew's disappearance was all over the media. Several days later his body was discovered in a clearing in the forest. He had died of heat exhaustion.

FoE mourned the loss of an inspiring campaigner. His friend and colleague Tony Juniper, who later became FoE's Director, said, "I have not met a more formidable, single-minded or imaginative advocate for the environment. The Earth never had a better friend".

A few months later the local Jersey Marine residents, who had saved their precious fen at Pant y Sais with Andrew's inspiring help, wanted to erect a memorial to him. Swansea FoE offered help and advice on the design and the words to use. It describes Andrew as the man who started the fight to get the fen protected. It carries the Welsh words “Da was, Da a Ffyddlon” ( a Good Servant, Good and Faithful) and a poignant quote from him. “ At some point I had to stand up and be counted, Who speaks for the butterflies?”

Swansea Friends of the Earth Remembers Andrew Lees

Swansea Friends of the Earth