Derek Scott, RIP

In the summer of 1992 a dilapidated cottage near the southern tip of Dursey Island, on rugged Beara Peninsula, was purchased by a remarkable couple, Derek and Joanna Scott (below).  They renovated it and over the next 30 years, it morphed into so much more than a home.  “Scott’s Place” as it was known, became a base for birders, sea watchers and yes, on occasion, whale watchers. Derek confided in me that Joanna, who had passed a few years earlier, always got more pleasure from watching dolphins and minkes breaching from their house at Tillickafinna, than she ever did from seeing a new bird for Ireland in their garden.

Binoculars never anywhere other than around Derek’s neck. With Joanne at their Dursey home in Tillickafinna.

Despite Derek being a professional ornithologist whose work and hobby more often than not took him off Dursey island to some of the most remote and inhospitable places imaginable, he still found time to compile the annual Dursey Cetacean Report for IWDG. Between 1996-2018 his reports produced almost 900 sighting records of 10 species, making this dataset an important bell weather for the Island’s marine ecology (see map of sightings).  Every January I’d look forward to receiving the previous year’s report and summary, which was a compilation of observations from some well-known recorders: David Cooke, Kieran Grace, Noel Linehan, Paul Rowe, Tony Lancaster, Kieran & Brendan Finch, to name but a few. 


In increasingly poor health, Derek paid his last visit to his beloved Dursey Island in 2018 and he died on November 28th 2022 in the UK. In sorting out his affairs, Derek has clearly passed on the baton to a younger crew of bird and sea watching enthusiasts who purchased Scott’s Place in a private sale, when he’d almost certainly have achieved a higher return by putting it on the open market. They hope to carry on his legacy in the years ahead and appreciate that they’ve big boots to fill.  We’ve also just learnt from his solicitors of his gifting a £5,000 legacy to IWDG. Derek was generous in every way.

In Derek’s words…..

“…. I have no complaints. I have had a wonderful life, not least because I have had the pleasure and privilege of having shared almost fifty years of it with a truly remarkable lady. As a boy I had only two ambitions: to see as much of the world as possible, and to see as many of its birds as possible. Well, at the last count, I had visited 140 countries and independent territories all over the world and seen about 7,500 species of birds (three-quarters of the planet’s known species). Not bad for a lad from the back streets of Bradford. So no mournful funeral – no long faces and dark suits, no religious mumbo jumbo, and certainly no cut flowers (I have always thought they were cruel). All I ask is that you raise a glass to my memory, preferably a good malt whiskey or a gin and tonic, but even a lemonade if need be.

Derek, your watch is complete, and alongside Joanna you both have front row seats whenever dolphins and minke whales, passerines or oceanic seabirds pass your Island home. Rest well.

In memory of Derek (and Joanna) Scott, 1944-2022

By Pádraig Whooley, IWDG