Obituary: Dr Hannah Stirling MBE

Award-winning conservation campaigner dubbed the Queen of Loch Lomond. Picture: Contributed
Award-winning conservation campaigner dubbed the Queen of Loch Lomond. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 27 September, 1914, in Glasgow. Died: 9 November, 2014, in Loch Lomond, aged 100.

Hannah Stirling earned her crown as Queen of Loch Lomond through the sheer force of her feisty determination to protect the iconic waters famed around the world.

Not only did she save the natural beauty of the landscape surrounding the loch from the scars of a hydro dam scheme, she went on to play a key role in the creation of Scotland’s first National Park and become the first British recipient of a prestigious European award for her outstanding conservation work.

She had lived overlooking the loch for just over a dozen years when the dam proposal reared its ugly head. Knowing the lure of Loch Lomond was worth fighting for, she and her friend Mrs Josephine Colquhoun resolved “to do something about it”. They formed an action group which ultimately saw off the scheme and, as a result, visitors have continued to enjoy the glorious views as she first fell in love with them almost half a century ago.

Born in the West End of Glasgow not long after the start of the Great War, she grew up in Helensburgh from the age of seven and attended St Bride’s Girls School, now Lomond School.

She learned early the definition of responsibility, duty and care: she was just 17 when her mother died and had nursed her for several years whilst helping to raise her younger brother and sister.

She then went to commercial college to learn secretarial skills before working in her father’s solicitors’ firm for several years. During the Second World War she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service and worked at the War Office’s Censor Office in Glasgow editing letters to ensure sailors did not divulge sensitive details of shipping routes in mail to their loved ones. She also served in Inveraray, Troon and Dunoon.

In 1945 she married Bill, a surgeon, and subsequently left the Wrens, accompanying her husband on a surgical tour of America. There she saw General Dwight Eisenhower, formerly Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, at a White House function in Washington, where she also met pastor and civil rights activist Martin Luther King at a garden party, before he became famous on the world stage.

She would later return to America, on a coast-to-coast tour as an ambassador for the group she helped found to protect Loch Lomond, attending the Stone Mountain Highland Games in Georgia and being feted as a guest of honour at a lunch at Washington’s National Geographic Society building.

The Stirlings travelled widely, as far as Japan, China and India, before buying their home Auchendarroch on Loch Lomondside in 1965, following a spell living in Glasgow.

It was in the spring of 1978 that the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board’s plans for a major hydro electric dam scheme on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond galvanised her into action. It threatened to blight the landscape with a storage reservoir, construction roads and power lines across the slopes.

She wrote to a national newspaper inviting opponents of the scheme to get in touch and the move triggered a huge response – 200,000 people signed a petition against the proposal. The Friends of Loch Lomond, an independent conservation charity, was formed in Balloch that October and the Hydro Board scheme was eventually scrapped.

The Friends continued to work in myriad ways to protect the area and improve opportunities for people to enjoy the loch and its surroundings. When the Forestry Commission announced plans to sell Ben Lomond, the charity launched another campaign and ownership of the much-loved Munro was transferred to the National Trust for Scotland. The group also lobbied for the creation of Scotland’s first national park – which finally came into being in 2002, contributed to the debate on various planning issues and took the lead in practical improvements to enhance the area’s natural and cultural heritage.

Now known as The Friends of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, the charity’s work extends right across Loch Lomond, The Trossachs, Breadalbane and the Argyll Forest Park.

In 1983 Mrs Stirling, who chaired The Friends, received a Queen Mother’s Birthday Award. This was followed, in 1993, by an honorary doctorate from the University of Strathclyde and in 1994 with an MBE. The band played The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond as she stepped forward to receive the honour from the Queen.

Her work was also recognised in 1996 when she become the first Briton to be honoured with an award from Europa Nostra, a movement which safeguards Europe’s cultural and natural heritage.

Throughout the remainder of her life she retained an intense interest in the park and the welfare of people in the area, particularly the young. She continued to keep up with issues and was always on hand to encourage and guide – but never direct – others, whilst offering advice and contributing generously to ensure things went smoothly.

Widowed some years ago, latterly she was president of the Friends and was delighted when, to mark her 100th birthday in September, they teamed up with boat operator Cruise Loch Lomond to launch a passenger vessel, the MV Lomond Hannah. The boat that bears her name will allow many more visitors to enjoy the spectacular views which had inspired her devotion to the loch.