John Foster, conservationist and founding director of the Countryside Commission for Scotland

Born: August 13, 1920;

Died: July 6, 2020.

JOHN Foster, who has died aged 99, was a conservationist and campaigner for access to the Scottish countryside who was at the forefront of the establishment of national parks in Britain. He was the pioneering head of the country’s first national park in the Peak District and was also influential in the creation of Scotland’s first parks, in the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond.

He was appointed the director of the Peak District park in 1952 and immediately broke new ground. He had been inspired by visits to the national parks in the United States and came home eager to apply what he had seen there. He oversaw the creation of new paths and car parks to improve access to the Peak District and created Britain’s first ranger service.

He remained in the role for more than 15 years until 1968 but it was not always an easy task as there was often resistance from landowners and local councils keen to promote development and employment.

Following the death of three Rover Scouts in bad weather during a hiking event in 1964, Foster also established Peak District Mountain Rescue.

He was then tempted back to his native Scotland as the first director of the Countryside Commission for Scotland.

The commission was established to promote and protect the landscape and followed the model which had already been up and running in England and Wales for a couple of decades. In the role, he continued to develop ranger services and, at a time of a rapid development in the oil and gas industry, also campaigned to protect the country’s beauty spots.

Foster then continued his work on conservation and the countryside long after his retirement from the commission in the 1980s.

As well as serving as president of Ramblers Scotland and an adviser to the Scottish Council for National Parks, he was also active in the campaign for better access to the countryside.

The campaign eventually led to the ground-breaking Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which established the right-to-roam.

John Foster was born in Partick, in Glasgow, to David Foster, who was a gardener, and his wife Isabella.

After school in Dennistoun, the young John trained as a quantity surveyor at what is now Strathclyde University and worked for a firm of surveyors in Glasgow.

During the Second World War, the firm won contracts to build military airfields in Moray and it was Foster who completed the design work in Elgin.

After the war, Foster worked as a planner for Kirkcudbright County Council before moving to Lincolnshire to take up a job in the planning department of Holland County Council.

He then worked on the planning for the Peak District park before being appointed director. One of his great achievements in the role was to save the trans-Pennine Hope Valley railway line from closure.

His later work at the Countryside Commission for Scotland was also notable for its achievements.

As well as developing the Scottish Ranger Service, he established the commission’s base at Battleby, near Perth, which is still in use by the government agency Naturescot as a conference centre.

He also firmly believed that the national parks model could work in Scotland and he laid the groundwork for the first Scottish parks while still at the Countryside Commission. Two national parks were eventually created – Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in 2002, and the Cairngorms in 2003 – and Foster played an important part in their development through his roles at Ramblers Scotland and the Scottish Council for National Parks.

He also worked internationally, building links and encouraging cooperation between conservationists around the world. He played a role in the Federation of Nature and National Parks of Europe and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

After his retirement, he was elected vice-president of Ramblers Scotland in 1986 and went on to become president from 1995 to 1998.

Dave Morris, former director of Ramblers Scotland, was among those who paid tribute to John Foster after his death.

“After retiring from CCS, John still showed great commitment to countryside protection and public enjoyment,” said Mr Morris.

“This was not only through his continuing support for the long running campaign to get national parks established in Scotland, but also through his involvement with Ramblers Scotland, not only for his period as president, but also for regular attendance at the annual meetings.

“Remarkably, that continued into his 90s.

“I know of no other senior public servant who, once they left governmental service, continued in their retirement to be so supportive of the voluntary environmental sector, over several decades.”

John Foster, who had lived in Crieff for many years, was awarded a CBE in 1985 and an honorary fellowship of Robert Gordon University in 1988. In 1992, he won the Fred Packard Award for outstanding service to protected areas.

He is survived by his wife Daphne, whom he met in Lincolnshire, their children, Alasdair and Caroline, and four grandchildren.