In memory of Mr. Richard Hearn, Global Coordinator of Baer’s Pochard Task Force (1971–2024)

Plenary lecture at the International Workshop on the conservation of Baer’s Pochard ©Prof. Ding Changqing

It is with profound sadness that we share the news of the passing of our esteemed colleague, Richard Hearn. Affectionately known as Rich, Richard was a cherished member of our community, and his loss is deeply felt by all who had the privilege of knowing him.

As the Global Coordinator of the EAAFP’s Baer’s Pochard Task Force, Rich made invaluable contributions to Baer’s Pochard conservation and research, leaving an indelible mark on the field. His passion for waterbirds and his tireless dedication to their monitoring and conservation efforts served as an inspiration to us all.

Rich played a pivotal role in advocating for the conservation needs of the Baer’s Pochard, a species often overlooked in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway. He was instrumental in the adoption of the “Hengshui Declaration” by ten countries during the first international workshop on the conservation of the Baer’s Pochard in 2018, where the goal was to stop the species from dying out in the wild. Additionally, he organised Baer’s Pochard censuses and surveys to continually update our knowledge of the status of this critically endangered migratory waterbird and identify their key habitat sites. Rich was also the lead author of two international single species action plans for Baer’s Pochard and Long-tailed Duck. His interview about Baer’s Pochard on the podcast “Talking Naturally” attests to his love and concern for this special bird.

Baer’s Pochard conservation publicity in a local primary school at Hengshui lake ©Prof. Ding Changqing

With over 30 years of experience at WWT and involvement in various international waterbird conservation projects in many areas including the East Asian—Australasian Flyway, Richard’s commitment to advancing waterbird conservation knew no bounds. His work spanned continents, from the UK and Europe to Africa, Asia, and beyond, where he tirelessly advocated for the protection of waterbird habitats and species.

Visiting a mobile exhibition for Baer’s Pochard conservation ©Prof. Ding Changqing

Rich’s impact extended far beyond his professional achievements. He was a mentor and friend to many and was a steadfast supporter of both the EAAFP and the Secretariat. We are sincerely grateful for his contributions to our organisation and the broader conservation community.

As we mourn the loss of Richard, let us also celebrate his enduring legacy and the countless lives he touched through his work and his kindness. Our thoughts are with Richard’s family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time. May his legacy continue to inspire us to strive for excellence in waterbird conservation.

Professor Ding Changqing from Beijing Forestry University (Chair of the Baer’s Pochard Task Force) shares a heartfelt tribute to Richard. Minor revisions have been made to the text to improve clarity while maintaining its intended message and sentiments.

“Very saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Richard Hearn. I knew he had been battling cancer for years, but it was still hard to accept the news.

Richard Hearn was the Global Coordinator of the EAAFP Baer’s Pochard Task Force (BPTF). He made outstanding contributions to the conservation of Baer’s Pochard in China and the survey of waterbirds in the Yangtze River. He visited China many times, not only to participate in field trips but also to help organise meetings, promote projects, and raise conservation awareness in primary schools and communities. The current achievements of China’s Baer’s Pochard conservation efforts are inseparable from his energy, enthusiasm, and dedication. We are very grateful to him! Now that the population and conservation status of Baer’s Pochard have improved, we have lost this good friend and excellent colleague. It is truly sad and heartbreaking.”

 Baer’s Pochard habitat survey with the Wuhan Birdwatching Society ©Prof. Ding Changqing

“For a long time, there have been no articles or special reports on Baer’s Pochard in China. It was Richard who published two papers in BirdingASIA in 2013 and 2015, which aroused our attention and concern for this species. He had a wealth of professional knowledge of ducks and waterbirds, which provided valuable technical guidance for the protection and monitoring of Baer’s Pochard. He coordinated experts and chaired the compilation of the Single Species Conservation Action Plan. He also led numerous surveys and conservation efforts in China, Myanmar, Russia, and elsewhere.”

 Participating in a workshop to promote the establishment of a Baer’s Pochard protection area ©Prof. Ding Changqing

“In 2018, when we hosted the “International Workshop on the Conservation of Baer’s Pochard” at Hengshui Lake, he assisted in contacting international experts and scientists from countries where Baer’s Pochard is distributed to attend the conference in a very limited time. This effectively ensured the success of the workshop and the issuance of the Hengshui Declaration. During his visits to China, we often talked late into the night, discussing the work plan and technical issues of the Task Force. He always remains proactive and believes there is much that can be done.

There were two brief experiences I had with him that I would like to share; let’s acquaint ourselves with a vibrant Richard.

In December 2018, EAAFP MoP10 was held in Changjiang, Hainan Island. After the meeting, Richard had a few days off, which he had carefully arranged to spend birdwatching at a local reserve. However, he generously sacrificed two days of his vacation to promote the protection of a Baer’s Pochard habitat in Wuhan. Following the meeting, he traveled overnight with me to Haikou, then flew to Wuhan the next day, and attended a workshop with local government and authority officials in the afternoon. He then flew back to Haikou the following day. Such a hectic and intense schedule, I believe, is not uncommon in his line of work. This exemplifies his usual positive and selfless work style.

I also remember one night; it was raining heavily as I drove from Changjiang to Haikou. We were engrossed in conversation, and suddenly, I inadvertently rear-ended a pickup truck with no brake lights. While waiting for the traffic police to handle the accident, many cars sped past, making the road very dangerous. I fervently negotiated with the pickup driver, hoping to move quickly to the side of the road… In that moment, through the rain and fog, I saw Richard in the co-pilot seat, calmly taking out his laptop, regardless of the danger, and starting to work.

We both like football. He mentioned that he was a fan of Tottenham Hotspur. I congratulated him on his team being second in the Premier League at that time and joked that Harry Kane had not yet won a title. He loved the Korean star Son Heung-min, and whenever we mentioned his name, his voice rises, his eyes light up, and he would become as excited as if he were standing in the stands.

The passing of Richard leaves a void that cannot be easily filled, especially considering how much time and expertise he dedicated. The BPTF community has lost a true luminary, and I have lost a dear friend. His memory will continue to inspire us in our future efforts.”

Check out WWT’s tribute to Richard here and AEWA’s tribute here.

Richard’s memory lives on through a tribute page lovingly created by those closest to him. Share your messages, photos, or support a cause dear to his heart by visiting the page linked here:

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