John Foster CBE 1920 – 2020

This is an obituary of John Foster, Director of the UK’s first National Park, Head of the Countryside Commission for Scotland and Vice President of APRS.

John Foster was a lifelong, persuasive advocate for the effective protection of countryside, the quality of its scenery, cultural significance and its appreciation and enjoyment by the public.  John was born in Glasgow on 13 August 1920 and died in Crieff on 6 July 2020, just a few weeks before his much-anticipated 100th birthday.  His outstanding work will be long and widely remembered; it is embedded in the activities of countryside agencies and charitable trusts such as the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP) and APRS.

John was a professional Chartered Surveyor and Town Planner and honed his creative communication and leadership skills working for Kirkcudbright County Council and Holland County Council, Lincolnshire.  In 1952 he was appointed Deputy Planning Officer at the Peak District National Park – the UK’s first National Park, located mainly in north Derbyshire – then became its first Director in 1954. He held this post until 1968, during which time he demonstrated his listening and diplomatic skills and the ability to seek creative and new solutions for countryside problems of protection and public access.  Hence he was an obvious candidate for the newly-created Countryside Commission for Scotland (CCS), to which he was appointed as its first Director in 1968.

John established the Commission at Battleby, a small estate in countryside just north of Perth.  Not only did the buildings house administrative facilities, but the estate was developed to disseminate countryside issues, including countryside interpretation and ranger services.  The former farm steadings were converted into an award-winning conference centre, a demonstration area was established for well-designed outdoor recreation equipment and the grounds, including gardens, woodland and parkland, were classified as a ‘designed landscape’, a category administered jointly by CCS and Historic Scotland. 

John was active on many countryside protection and public access issues. In these areas his major contribution was the development of sound criteria for characterising Scotland’s landscapes, which led to the establishment of National Scenic Areas and the publication of the seminal 1974 report ‘A Parks System for Scotland’.  This led to the creation of Regional Parks and Country Parks, whose main purposes are countryside conservation and public access and enjoyment.  This report also set out the measured arguments for National Parks in Scotland for areas with the highest natural heritage qualities.  

During the 1960s the Duke of Edinburgh suggested a series of conferences to be held throughout the UK, to address widespread concerns about the loss of environmental quality in the countryside.  These became known as the ‘Countryside in 1970’conferences and in Scotland, with John’s strong support, they were organised by CCS.

John retired in 1985 but remained very active in the protection of natural heritage issues, both internationally and in Scotland.  He played a key role through Ramblers Scotland and as President of SCNP in the formulation of Scottish legislation for National Parks and for responsible public access to the countryside.  He was able to enjoy the fruits of his labours in 2002-03 when Scotland’s first two National Parks were created at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms.  He was a Vice-President of APRS from 2002 to 2018 and was very supportive of all its work, including its campaign for more National Parks in Scotland.

John’s work was widely acclaimed with a number of awards, including CBE in 1985 and international recognition with the Fred Packard International Parks Merit Award in 1990.  Colleagues recall John as the kindest and most courteous of people.  Quiet in style and gentle in manner, but determined and effective in all he did.  His combination of innovation and pragmatic delivery will be long remembered.

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