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Obituary: ‘Passionate’ Highgate conservationist who loved London’s wildlife

PUBLISHED: 13:33 12 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:59 13 September 2017

Highgate Cemetery beekeeper and independent documentary filmmaker Maurice Melzak passed away on September 5. Picture: Archant

Highgate Cemetery beekeeper and independent documentary filmmaker Maurice Melzak passed away on September 5. Picture: Archant

Archant

Maurice Melzak began his career as a researcher for the naturalist David Attenborough and went on to dedicate his life to the natural world.

After researching documentaries for Attenborough and fellow conservationist Gerald Durrell, Mr Melzak went on to make his own films and programmes including “Josie’s Journey”.

The BBC1 programme – about Josie Russell, whose mother Lin and sister Megan were killed in an attack in Kent in 1996 – sparked a further interest in forensic science, leading to a Channel Five series about a school for crime scene investigators in Tennessee.

His cousin Geraldine Maidment said: “He was passionate about nature and conservation with a deep respect for the environment.

“He loved the Heath, Waterlow Park and Highgate Wood. He was always very interested in the relationship between humans and animals,” she added.

Born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, in February 1952 to parents Joseph and Ernestine, an Auschwitz survivor, the life-long filmmaker’s list of achievements includes a Gold Medal from the International Film and TV Festival of New York for a documentary about wildlife and power stations.

Friend Professor Patricia Wiltshire – who featured in the Channel Five series – said: “Maurice had the knack of seeming to be uninterested in what was going on but, of course, he was firmly in control. He was a sensitive and imaginative film-maker.

“He had a great love of wildlife and an empathy with animals but, perhaps, less so with human ones. I think it was our mutual knowledge, understanding, and deep feeling for wildlife and all aspects of nature that bonded us together.

“I will always think of him with great feeling and I know the world would be better if he were still here,” she added.

Mr Melzak’s love of the natural world led him to apply for a grant to buy 100 nesting boxes for Highgate Cemetery in addition to the bee hives he looked after in a quiet corner of the burial ground.

“He was passionate about the cemetery and its abundance of wildlife,” Ms Maidment said.

“He really wanted nesting boxes nationwide. He leaves a legacy of raising awareness of the natural world,” she added.

On top of filmmaking, Mr Melzak, who lived in Swain’s Lane, Highgate, campaigned to protect the capital’s wildlife, petitioning mayor Sadiq Khan to support a scheme encouraging home-owners to put up nesting boxes in their gardens.

The marine biology graduate’s project – begun in Waterlow Park in 2010 – featured in an episode of the BBC’s Springwatch.But Mr Melzak is perhaps best known as Highgate Cemetery’s bee-keeper.

Writing for the Ham&High in November last year, Mr Melzak said: “Having a few hives in the Cemetery is a great privilege. Few hobbies bring you closer to the wonders of the natural world.”

Maurice Melzak passed away aged 65 on Tuesday, September 5.

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