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Grace Hickling

Grace Hickling (1908-1986) had a long association with the Farne Islands as a researcher and conservationist. She become the public face of the islands and played a key role in ensuring that they were recognised nationally for their importance as a habitat for seals and seabirds. 

It was while she was working as an intelligence officer during WWII that Grace Hickling first met Tom Russell Goddard, the curator of what was then the Hancock Museum. Intrigued by his stories of the Farne Islands, she first visited them with Goddard in 1940.

Grace began bird ringing on the Farnes for research purposes, directing the ringing of 187,600 birds for the Natural History Society of Northumbria, work it continues to this day. Her ground-breaking fieldwork on seals expanded our knowledge of the islands’ seal populations and the effect of culling. 

After the war, Grace was elected honorary  joint-secretary of the Society. She went on to become the first woman to be sole Honorary Secretary, a position she held from 1948-1986, as well as editor of its journal, the Transactions. She devoted her life to the future conservation of wildlife habitats, conducting fieldwork and engaging the public with the importance of the Natural History Society’s work.   

As a skilful leader and an effective negotiator, Grace helped to achieve national nature reserve status for Lindisfarne, and set up the original meeting that began proceedings to secure the Society’s management of Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.

Grace Hickling’s exceptional service to the Natural History Society of Northumbria was marked by the award of an MBE in 1974.

Grace Hickling (centre) in the War Room, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1944.


Read Grace Hickling’s obituary by Derek R Shannon from Transactions of the Natural History Society of Northumbria. Vol 55:5-11. 1988.