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Department of Zoology

Roger Northfield and colleague checking a moth trap

The Department is sorry to announce that our former colleague Roger Northfield died on 17th May.

Roger started work in the Zoology Department in 1956, and with one short break to work in the States, stayed here continuously until his retirement 51 years later. Everything Roger did was shot-through with his enormous passion for natural history – sourcing animals for practical classes and lectures, and managing to find strange and wonderful creatures for people’s research. Long-time Head of Zoology Malcolm Burrows says “Roger was a really talented naturalist who knew exactly where, when and how to find particular insects – from snow fleas under certain mosses in the Breckland (but only during two particular weeks in January), to a tiny parasitoid wasp parasitizing a culture of the cabbage white butterflies he was raising at home.”

John Overton describes Roger’s office as “a lovely place to visit … more of a private tea-room where friends and students could touch base for stimulating conversation and when needed, for support”. The office also housed many non-human inhabitants. Bill Amos remembers chatting with Roger next to the bumblebee colony he’d set up in a large Perspex box.  Bill says “The bees learned to fly in though the open window and head straight for their new home; you could see the dots approaching from miles away. Another year he had an armful of privet, covered in death’s-head hawkmoth caterpillars.”  There was also a family of house martin chicks that had fallen out of a nest. Roger apparently had a rule that if you came to look at them you had to pick up the forceps provided and feed them some of the freshly squeezed blowfly pupae that he’d been rearing in the Insect Hut.

Roger took great pleasure in helping people and seemed incapable of panic. Nothing was ever a problem, just something he could help sort out – whether that was retrieving an escaped salmon pink bird-eater spider from the inside of a toaster or rebuilding the engine on Neal Maskell’s Royal Enfield motorbike.

And Roger rejoiced too in sharing his natural history passion and curiosity with people around him. In later years he became a key staff member on the 1B Ecology Field Course at Juniper Hall, with undergraduates, teachers, and even Juniper Hall staff being enlightened and enthused by someone the students decided to call – whether for his knowledge or Alec Guinness looks - Obi-Wan Kenobi. Besides thousands of moths, he found grass snakes and hairstreaks, glow worms and stag beetles; and enthralled people with his near-mystical ability to pick out at ten paces which one of a dozen fallen logs would be hiding a snoozing slow worm or a nestful of baby shrews.

Roger inspired and helped very many people in Zoology and beyond: he will be greatly missed.

Andrew Balmford

Photo courtesy of John Overton