Irvine Butterfield

Author, climber and conservationist

Born: 8 August, 1936, in Farnhill, Yorkshire.

Died: 12 May, 2009, in Dundee, aged 72.

WHEN Irvine Butterfield published The High Mountains of Britain and Ireland, in 1986, he wrote about a new pastime that was fast becoming a cult. His gloriously detailed and matchlessly researched book on the Munros of Scotland furthered the harmless hobby of "Munro-bagging" – the name derives from Sir Hugh Munro, who catalogued all the hills over 3,000ft in 1971. Butterfield, a devoted environmentalist, brought a sense of zest and excitement to hill climbing in Scotland; his passion for the hills and moors encouraged others to go out and explore both remote and accessible areas.

Butterfield's commitment was total and he gave much of his own time and energy to maintaining Scotland's countryside. Nigel Hawkins, a founder and former chief executive of the John Muir Trust, a charity dedicated to the protection of wild land and nature, said: "Irvine's contribution to the preservation and enhancement of the Scottish hills just cannot be overestimated. He was a champion of the wild places of Scotland and encouraged everyone to visit and walk in them; never to take the mountains for granted, but to enjoy the scenery and to take care for it."

Irvine Butterfield was born in North Yorkshire and was a keen Dale walker from his youth. He worked at Keighley gasworks and as a post office clerk until, in 1957, he worked in customs and excise, first in London then, in 1960, in Scotland. Butterfield was to spend his career in the department's whisky offices in Perth, Dundee and Inverness.

Those first years in Perth introduced Butterfield to the Highlands. His first climb was the Cobbler, at the head of Loch Long, but his first Munro was Stob Diamh at the eastern end of the Cruachan ridge. Throughout his life he had a particular passion for the magically mysterious Schiehallion. It was near his own house at Pitcairngreen in Perthshire, and he was a trustee of the John Muir Trust when, in 1998, it bought the mountain.

Butterfield gave the royalties of his second book (Highland Britain, the Magic of the Munros) towards its purchase and had, for some years, campaigned that the paths be improved and that the mountain be restored to its former glory. It was therefore appropriate at the celebration when the trust gained ownership of Schiehallion that Butterfield proposed the ancient toast at Kinloch Rannoch to "The Back of Schiehallion".

In the Sixties, the facilities for hill walking were minimal. The guidebooks (compared to today) were primitive and the clothing rudimentary. The conditions outdoors were no better. The paths and tracks were poor and landowners were not always well-disposed to walkers. Butterfield, through his writings in magazines, warned walkers of the erratic conditions that can be experienced on the Scottish hills and gave lists of vital items to be included in "haversacks". One of Butterfield's earliest causes was the improvement of the bothies on which many mountaineers rely for rest. He was secretary of the Mountain Bothies Association from 1969-72 and this led to his book (Dibidil, a Hebridean Adventure), which detailed the renovation of a bothy on Rum.

Butterfield never entered into the business of "collecting Munros", but by 1971, when Munro-climbing was still in its infancy, Butterfield had climbed 277 Munros. He scaled mountains of all heights and often reclimbed them just to photograph them in a different light. His experience led him to serve on numerous mountaineering societies. Apart from the John Muir Trust he helped to set up the Munro Society and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. He campaigned, through the Perthshire Alliance for the Real Cairngorms, to have the boundary of the National Park extended and often organised local meetings at Blair Atholl. It gave him considerable satisfaction when the extension to the park was made last year.

To a wider public, Butterfield is known for his writing and photography. His books were invariably illustrated by his own magnificent photographs, which captured the glories and rugged nature of the Highlands – both The Magic of the Munros and The Call of the Corbetts are now classics. Both were best-sellers and have been called "the bible for all hill walkers".

It was entirely appropriate that, last November, the John Muir Trust made him the fourth recipient of its lifetime achievement award. In an emotional ceremony at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival, despite being very ill, Butterfield received the award and spoke movingly of his great love of the mountains.

Butterfield's devotion to the Scottish countryside was unstinting. In his robust Yorkshire accent, he was often heard engaging with colleagues, climbers or committee members about country matters. "Irvine felt strongly about anything to do with the hills," Mr Hawkins recalls. "He gave of himself hugely and believed passionately in preserving Scotland's natural beauty and undoubtedly contributed to the understanding and conservation of our hills and moors. Irvine loved the Scottish hills and 'adopted' all the Munros, but Schiehallion, for Irvine, was always special."

Irvine Butterfield is survived by his partner, Moira Gillespie.