Obituary: Ian Findlay CBE, Scottish ecologist and outdoor enthusiast

Ian Findlay CBE, ecologist and outdoor enthusiast. Born: 17 March 1961. Died: 5 March, 2021 in Comrie, Perthshire, aged 59

Ian Findlay had a passion for the Great Outdoors
Ian Findlay had a passion for the Great Outdoors

Ian Findlay was the inspirational head of the walking charity Paths for All whose lifelong passion for the Great Outdoors was fuelled by a childhood in the glorious Perthshire countryside.

Growing up in Comrie, he enjoyed being out and about from an early age and, after leaving Crieff’s Morrison Academy, it was his love of nature that prompted him to study ecological science and wildlife management.

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Graduating with a BSc, he left the University of Edinburgh in 1983 to begin a career where he could fully appreciate not only the beauty of the countryside but could help tackle some of the issues it faces.

It led to a working life which, though cut short before he was 60, spanned more than three decades dedicated to making a significant and influential contribution to the environment, outdoor access and healthy lifestyles.

And for a lover of the Great Outdoors, Findlay’s first post could hardly have been more spectacular – he spent a year as a countryside ranger for the National Trust for Scotland at Inverewe and Ben Lawers.

A move in the same role, this time for Clackmannanshire Council, followed until, in 1989, he joined Scottish Natural Heritage.

As peatland team officer in Caithness and Sutherland he was involved in the survey and designation of the Flow Country before becoming area officer for Inverness-shire.

And he remained working for the good of the Highlands until 2000, latterly seconded to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) as enterprise and environment adviser.

Based in the community land unit, he represented HIE on a wide range of national and regional partnerships and was involved in formulating policy on sustainable development and environment issues, as well as enhancing integration between natural heritage and enterprise development.

The millennium saw him become head of conservation operations for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, where his role included overseeing the management of more than 100 wildlife reserves.

In tandem with his desire to protect our natural heritage ran a deep-seated commitment to helping to improve the lives of others, reflected not only in his championing of healthy lifestyles but in his decision to provide a welcoming home for foster children. Over eight years he and his family cared for 22 youngsters

The concept of kindness was central to his thinking and he had been delighted by the growing prominence of kindness and being kind in our national consciousness, highlighting research showing that wellbeing could be boosted by being kind to others.

And he revealed: “My love for outdoor activities and for Scotland came from dad’s kindness in taking me for walks.”

That love of walking was highly significant in his final post as chief officer of Paths for All, the Scottish charity dedicated to promoting active communities and supporting participation in the outdoors.

He joined in 2003 and over almost 18 years was instrumental in its diversification and growth. In particular he promoted the transformative effect of simple, everyday walking on the population’s health and wellbeing.

As a result, Paths for All led the development of Scotland’s first national walking strategy and in 2019 Findlay was made a CBE for services to healthy lifestyles and outdoor activities.

Completely taken aback by the award, he declared himself “delighted, humbled, honoured, excited, inspired, all in equal measure”, saying Paths for Life had been a fundamentally important part of his journey.

Findlay attributed the award to working together and the efforts of others and hoped it would help make his work have more of an impact.

“I fundamentally believe our health and the health of our environment are intrinsically linked and that outdoor activity is key to our health, well-being and happiness and to nurturing a sense of connection, responsibility, respect and care for our environment.”

Volunteering was also part of his DNA and in addition to his professional commitments he had been a director of: Scottish Native Woods; Scottish Environment LINK, of which he was appointed an honorary fellow; Comrie Community Centre and Comrie Development Trust and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Countryside Trust. He was also convenor of the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations.

Findlay, who was just a few days away from celebrating his 60th birthday, died while out on his bike, sparking a flood of tributes from those whose lives he touched both professionally and personally. Praised for his genuine concern for people and planet, he was remembered for his passion and integrity.

“Ian has been an inspiring chief officer, he leaves an incredible legacy,” said Paths for All’s Chairman Marcus Sangster. “And we will honour him by continuing to make Paths for All the organisation he was so passionate and proud of.”

He is survived by his wife Andrea, daughter Lianne, one granddaughter, his father, three brothers and sister.

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