Face to face with MOSS TAYLOR

In her latest Face to Face interview KAREN BETHELL talks to former Sheringham GP Moss Taylor who, after taking early retirement, went on to carve a second career as one of the region's most respected ornithologists.

In her latest Face to Face interview KAREN BETHELL talks to former Sheringham GP Moss Taylor who, after taking early retirement, went on to carve a second career as one of the region's most respected ornithologists.

Originally from Bexley Heath, Kent, Moss, who was christened Maurice, dreamed of becoming an environmentalist as a youngster.

A keen birder from the age of 10, he began catching and ringing birds as a teenager, also giving lectures, leading birding walks, taking photographs and writing magazine articles on the creatures while still at school.

But, encouraged by his father - a pharmacist - he opted for a career as a doctor and after studying medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London, spent two years working at an Essex hospital.

After meeting and marrying Fran, a hospital secretary, at Great Yarmouth, Moss took a job at St Peter's Hospital, Surrey, where he specialised in paediatrics, later working as a cardiac specialist at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Drawn to North Norfolk by the area's reputation as the UK's bird watching capital, he joined Sheringham Health Centre as a GP in 1972.

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Fifteen years ago, Moss treated two young mothers, both of whom died of cancer leaving small children. Concerned about the youngsters' welfare, he decided to set up Sheringham Children's Trust with local solicitor Martin Preston and building society manager Joan Thame.

The trust provides support for youngsters aged up to 18 who have lost a parent, also sending birthday and Christmas presents, and paying for music lessons, school equipment and holidays.

Moss, 64, has since been succeeded as trustee by fellow Sheringham GP Peter Sampson and the charity, which relies on donations and the proceeds of fundraising events organised by local people, now looks after up to 20 children at any one time.

Early retirement in 1994 allowed Moss to throw himself wholeheartedly into his love of birding. He has since written 5 books on the subject, also setting up his own publishing company devoted to bird titles and travelling the world on birding treks.

Between 1999 and 2005, he wrote around 500 “In the Countryside” columns for the News's sister paper, the Eastern Daily Press, and has, since 2000, been working on an atlas of Norfolk birds.

A former Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk and Norwich Naturalist Society council member, Moss was, for a number of years, secretary and treasurer of the British Trust for Ornithology, also finding time to play cricket and golf and perform with local songsters the Sheringham Shantymen.

Although still struggling to come to terms with losing Fran to cancer last year, Moss continues to devote “100 per cent” of his efforts to birding.

His latest book, Identifying Birds by Colour, was published by Collins a few weeks ago.

What is the best thing about your job?

Doing something that I really love doing - I get up at 6am every morning and I do birding-related things for most of the day. I'm a bit of an anorak really!

And the worst?

There are no bad things about it at all. I love everything about birds and, to me, they are the most attractive of all the things in the natural world - their song, their plumage and their behaviour is fascinating and migration in particular is astonishing. There is a great challenge with them as, however much you think you know, there is always something more to learn.

Where do you go to unwind?

For a walk in the countryside.

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

My album of wedding photographs is very important to me, but I'd also save my bird records, which list all the birds I've seen from as far back as 1958.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

Sandringham House; it is fabulous to think that you can walk through rooms where the Royal Family spend their time.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I'd like to be more tolerant.

What is your proudest moment?

When I walked down the aisle with Fran; she was the love of my life and still is.

And your greatest achievement.

Having three fine sons.

Who do you most admire?

Richard Richardson, whose biography I wrote in 2002. He was a good field ornithologist, a good bird artist, and a friend and inspiration to many people.

Do you have any fears or phobias?

I have been stuck in lifts twice - in Ecuador and Greece. I hate them and always use the stairs, no matter what.

What makes you angry?

Vandalism - it really upsets me when I hear about wilful damage of other people's property.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Film: From Russia with Love, (1963 James Bond movie), book: The Magus, by John Fowles, and, on TV, I enjoy watching The Apprentice.

How would you like to be remembered?

As an enthusiast because I am enthusiastic about whatever I do.