The ecologist Liz Howe, who has died aged 59 from cancer, helped produce a modern environmental Domesday Book – Habitats of Wales: A Comprehensive Field Survey, 1979-1997. For 10 years from 1987 she managed a series of survey teams that mapped vegetation across lowland landscapes, complementing similar work in upland areas. Since its publication in 2010, the resulting volume has provided a foundation stone on which to base conservation management, its value as a stable evidence base growing with the passage of time.

The survey information collected under Liz’s watch has proved essential in assessing the conservation value of particular areas and how they can be managed, as well as a basis for identifying potential sites of special scientific interest. It has also helped to define tracts of land that are suitable for public access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

In a career that spanned more than three decades at the Nature Conservancy Council, succeeded in 1991 by the Countryside Council for Wales and in 2013 by Natural Resources Wales, Liz pioneered and led much of the practical conservation of terrestrial species that has been carried out in Wales.

A leading British herpetologist – an expert on amphibians and reptiles – she produced reviews of the ecology and distribution of those animals for A New Natural History of Anglesey (1990).

Working with Chester Zoo and the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, she led a captive breeding and re-introduction project to reinstate sand lizards at suitable coastal sand dune sites in Wales.

A similar project for natterjack toads was so successful that the spawn produced was used to re-establish this rare species at other locations. She advised on species conservation measures that were incorporated into Wales’s first agri-environment scheme, implemented in 1992 by the Countryside Council for Wales in order to conserve different types of landscapes and habitats, and to promote nature-friendly farming.

Liz also developed a grant programme that supported a network of hundreds of volunteers working for organisations – such as Plantlife and the Botanical Society of the British Isles – on conservation and species-recording.

This programme included the first ever lichen apprenticeship scheme, which trains volunteers to monitor the abundance of lichens in Wales. And she helped with the publication of the Red Data Lists of vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens that assessed the threats facing them.

Her knowledge and practical, considered advice supported chief scientists, reached to ministerial level in the Welsh government, and informed UK perspectives through her work with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which advises the UK government and devolved administrations. Through her gift for spotting talent, she recruited many valuable experts to her team, all committed to halting biodiversity loss.

Born in Kingstanding in the West Midlands, Liz was the only daughter of Robert Pulford, an electrical engineer, and his wife, Margaret (nee Davis). After Aldridge grammar school in Walsall (1971-78) she went to Queen Elizabeth College, University of London, where as an undergraduate studying mammalian physiology she won the Cheesman prize for physiology.

Having participated in studies on tortoises in Greece and France while doing her degree, she gained a PhD at Bangor University (1981-85), researching the physiology of the ocellated skink, a lizard found in Italy, Greece and Malta.

At Bangor she met fellow PhD student Mike Howe. They married in 1989 and were involved in a Jersey Zoo project on Angonoka tortoises in Madagascar. Mike also went on to work in nature conservation in Wales, and after the birth of their two daughters, family holidays invariably centred around hunts for rare invertebrates.

Working for the Nature Conservancy Council (1986-91) as a contract scientist engaged in surveying and the preparation of conservation site management plans, Liz was then promoted to become a species team leader and herpetologist in the newly formed Countryside Council for Wales, where I first met her in 1992, and continued in that role at Natural Resources Wales until her death.

A keen amateur flautist, she was a committee member and secretary of the Friends of Gwynedd Youth Music, supporting the provision of music to young people. That organisation also covered the island county of Anglesey, where Liz, alongside other family members, played the euphonium in the Beaumaris brass band, which she also served as secretary.

At home she and Mike restored a rare section of limestone pavement on their smallholding on Anglesey; recently it became part of the Y Bonc, Marian-glas, site of special scientific interest, noted for its limestone grassland and heath.

She is survived by Mike, by their two daughters, Megan and Gwenllian, and her brother, Robert.

Elizabeth Anne Howe, ecologist, born 27 October 1959; died 31 March 2019



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