Obituary: Naturalist who had undiscovered species named after him

Peter Lambley, lichen expert, at Lyng church

Peter Lambley, lichen expert, at Lyng church - Credit: Archant

It would be fair to say that Peter Lambley was something of an adventurer. 

From whispering to snakes in the southwestern Pacific to losing a boot during an escape from a bog in Thetford, Mr Lambley lived a life filled with an array of eclectic experiences. 

Thankfully, his earliest career ambition to become “a robber” was thwarted by his parents after he was caught red-handed with two squashed tomatoes hidden in his pockets following a visit to the market. 

Deciding then that a life of crime was not for him, he went on to achieve great success as a naturalist. 

In fact, it was his many years of conservation work, notably on the north Norfolk coast, that earned him the honour of being made an MBE in 2007. 

His family said: “He had a great curiosity for life and the natural world and had a very eclectic set of interests; from football, fossils and fungi, to lichen, bird-watching, geology, weather, the church, travel, and politics. 

“He always held the well-being of his local community in his heart and it would be easy to underestimate his contribution to village life. He was indeed in every sense of the word a local stalwart and was not one to make a fuss about his achievements.” 

Most Read

Peter William Lambley was born on November 4, 1946, in Birmingham. 

As a young boy, he showed a keen interest in the natural world by bringing home slow worms, newts, sundew plants, rocks and fossils.  

By the age of 10, and now living in Ifield near Crawley, in the south of the country, his love of roaming flourished as he explored the West Sussex landscape–as well as the tunnels under Gatwick airport’s runway. 

He also loved sea fishing with his father, and returned from one such fishing trip on July 30, 1966, wondering why everyone was celebrating. It was, of course, because England had won the World Cup.

Mr Lambley attended university in Leicester, where he met his future wife, Gill, who was then at college training to be a teacher. 

Photographs of children enjoying an educational session with the then-assistant keeper, Peter Lambley

Photographs of children enjoying an educational session with the then-assistant keeper, Peter Lambley, with the Natural History Museum Club in 1969 - Credit: ARCHANT

The couple married in 1970 and moved to Hellesdon, Norwich, where Mr Lambley became head of Natural History at Norwich Castle Museum, based in a musty-smelling office with skulls on the desk and drawers filled with butterflies hidden behind a secret panelled door. 

After more than 14 years there, Mr Lambley decided he needed a change and took up the post of senior technical officer at The Natural Sciences Resource Centre at the University in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  

He led a team of technicians to run the universities herbarium and frequently organised trips to collect specimens from remote parts of the country. The material he collected is still being studied today and he has a previously undiscovered lichen and a trapdoor spider–Parmotrema Lambley and Nihoa Lambley respectively–named after him. 

In 1977, the family returned to England moved to Lyng, near Dereham, where he became involved in community life with a number of organisations. 

As well as being a parish councillor, he was a member of the Parochial Church Council, the school’s Parent and Teachers’ Association, and the Churchyard Working Party. He was also chair of the Lyng and District Community Hall Project team and of the trustees. 

Lyng Parish Council chairman Camilla Davis and vice chairman Peter Lambley with the tree.

Lyng Parish Council chair Camilla Davis and vice-chair Peter Lambley planting a tree - Credit: Archant

He got a job as a conservation officer with English Nature, managing sites on the north Norfolk coast at Blakeney, Holkham and Brancaster, where he was instrumental in creating a saltmarsh at the latter. 

And it was his many years of nature conservation work, notably on the north Norfolk coast, that earned him an MBE in 2007.  

He also became the Norfolk County Recorder for a group of fungi and in 1988 and 1989 he published a two-part account of the county's lichen flora in the Naturalist Society's Transactions, a publication he edited for 20 years. 

Mr Lambley retired aged 60 and devoted time to his interests including actively botanising, writing papers and contributing to village life.  

He was overjoyed when his grandchildren arrived and with it the chance to be a big kid again while sharing his enthusiasm for nature and steam trains and trips to Cornwall. 

In 2014, Mrs Lambley had a major stroke and was in hospital for months rehabilitating. Mr Lambley helped with her recovery.  

Sparham Flower Festival at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Sparham,2010. Pictured is Peter Lambley with his wife, Gill

Sparham Flower Festival at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Sparham, on September 4, 2010. Pictured is Peter Lambley with his wife, Gill - Credit: ARCHANT

His family added: “Though his cheery smile and wise words will be greatly missed by many, the contribution he has made in his lifetime will be with us in one way or another for many years to come. 

“The eccentric nature of Dad, was a characteristic that he cultivated. He declared it to be his ambition to become eccentric as he got old. 

"We will remember him with binoculars around his neck, in his element, a unique individual, husband, father, grandfather, friend and mentor to so many, explorer of the natural world and lover of wild places.” 

Tony Irwin, who first met Mr Lambley in 1976 when he joined Norwich Castle Museum, said: “Peter was not someone who made a fuss about his achievements, and it would be easy to underestimate the effect that his guidance and example have had on a new generation of naturalists and conservationists. 

“The solid base that resulted from Peter's work will continue to support future studies, and though his cheery smile and wise words will be greatly missed, he will be with us in one way or another for many years to come.” 

Mr Lambley died on January 27 at the age of 75. A celebration of his life took place at St Margaret’s Church, Lyng.