Tributes to Colin Docketty

Three tributes to Colin follow from his friends in the Society
(Photos courtesy of Colin’s sister Marion)

Colin Docketty was born in north-west London on 28 January 1943.  Leaving school at the age of 15, Colin went to Pitman’s College and after that began work at Euston House for British Rail. He would remain with the railways for his entire working life and his passion for trains and trainspotting was infectious. Colin’s sister Marion tells how his love of trainspotting and ‘collecting trains’ evolved into a similar interest in watching and listing birds, and thereafter wildlife in general, although he had had some interest in nature from an early age.

Marion remembers how Colin was close to death in the early 1970s. He had been suffering from cancer and had been treated with chemotherapy – then very much a new treatment. Colin was on life support and the doctors gently explained that it might be time to switch off as he was unlikely to recover. But Marion felt Colin squeeze her hand and persuaded them to give him more time. Soon afterwards, Colin made a full recovery and was determined to live life to the full.

Colin, sister Marion and other family members

Colin lived with his parents in Watford and by the mid-1980s was working in administration at Melton House near Watford Junction. Colin was introduced to John Blundell by a mutual friend and he and John would go on to become good buddies and would make regular railway journeys in later years. John remembers how he would usually bump into Colin in the canteen – his love of good food legendary even then! Colin took voluntary redundancy in 1990 and moved to Milton Keynes in 1993. The house in the Lakes Estate was bought primarily to house Colin’s vast collection of books (his mother had had enough by then!) One of the advantages of living here was that Colin was close to Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve and ‘the bluey’ as he called it became his local patch, giving him countless hours of pleasure looking for birds, wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies among other delights. He led a number of society visits to Blue Lagoon in the years to come.

Colin made many friends at MKNHS and in his own quite way made a vast contribution, particularly in the last five years or so. He has been our chief refreshments person – ensuring that tea and coffee is provided at indoor meetings and has planned the Christmas party for some years. He has also served on the committee and helped to plan and lead several society trips further afield. Perhaps his most valuable contribution was organising and running a series of Sunday walks, beginning in the aftermath of the 2020 COVID lockdown. When meeting indoors was still impossible for our society, these local walks were a vital way for us to keep connected and indeed helped us to recruit a number of new members. His almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Milton Keynes (and indeed UK) transport system came in handy to many of us!

Sadly, the last trip that Colin planned, he did not live to attend. Harry Appleyard welcomed 13 members to Spurn in Humberside last weekend (27-29 October) and we assembled a list of birds and wildlife that would have delighted Colin, not least the woodcocks we saw coming off the sea – a favourite bird of his. We drank a toast to him on the first evening. He would have loved the food.

Colin passed away suddenly on 19 September 2023. He is survived by his siter Marion, his niece Yolanda and two nephews, Adrian and Sidney. The family were incredibly welcoming when Matt Andrews and Martin Kincaid attended his funeral and wished to acknowledge their thanks to all his friends in MKNHS. Wherever he is now, let’s hope the buses are running on time.

Martin Kincaid


I was very sad to hear that Colin had died.  Once you met Colin, you didn’t forget him and I certainly won’t.  My wife, Mairi, only met him once but on the day I heard he had died we were able to have a long conversation about him! He was undeniably different!  So here are just a couple of my reminiscences.

Most of you will remember Colin from the MKNHS meetings at Cruick Barn or summer field meetings. I also saw him at Cruick Barn where our conversations usually started by him asking me about my latest trip abroad as a tour leader. He wanted as much information as possible to assess whether that trip is one he should take in future years. In all, he accompanied me on three trips abroad, but I had not previously met Colin when I led a trip to Florida around the turn of the century. Before we left London airport I had found all, bar one, of my fellow travellers. I sat in a packed Jumbo Jet as we waited for the last embarkee.  At first sight, as he appeared down a gangway, dressed exactly as you would expect, I just knew it was Colin!  There were 15 other people on the trip, as I had to remind Colin occasionally, since he asked more questions than the rest of the group put together. His appetite for information and answers was almost insatiable.  I just wish I could have answered all of them with complete confidence, since Colin seemed to have seriously misplaced trust in my infallibility. So we had many conversations during the trip, not least at several dinners, since the seating arrangements of most of the motels we used did not promote communal dining, but retro booths. Colin’s appetite for information was not entirely based on me. Some of the reserves we visited had gift shops – and more importantly book shops – attached.  I’m not sure how much spare luggage space Colin had planned, but he bought a lot of books!

On one of the first occasions he turned up at a birdwatching walk which I was leading, I asked who had given him a lift.  No-one. Two buses and a walk had done the trick. What about getting home? Well, a lift to a specific bus stop was welcome but he never asked for a lift home.  The one situation which did allow him to accept a lift home was the prospect of a tortuous, very late night journey from Heathrow Airport.

Over the years I was always curious as to how on earth he had got to various often remote nature reserves in the UK, or the USA, by public transport.  In describing precisely every stage of the journey, the answer became obvious – by meticulous planning,of course. Public transport operators sometimes let him down, or made mistakes, which Colin never did!

However there was one form of transport, of which Colin was not at all fond….ski lifts.  During a trip to Bulgaria, on which there were several other MKNHS members, this was an essential part of the itinerary.  The birds and butterflies at 2000m near Bansko, on Mt Pirin, could only be sought with the aid of two ski lifts. Eventually, with the quite accurate assurance that I had never been on a ski lift either, we took the plunge, metaphorically speaking, together, holding hands!  To the great amusement of more hardened ski-lifters!

Happy days! I shall miss you, Colin.

Andy Harding


The many members of Milton Keynes Natural History Society remember Colin with fondness. Not just as a smiling face above the coffee cups, as he managed the provision of refreshments with commitment and kindness.

He was much more than that. Colin was an excellent naturalist over many branches of natural history. But even more important was his knowledge of when and where to find natural history, and his enterprise in searching them out via the local and not so local bus routes.

The real benefit we all gained from him was his enthusiasm for organising and sharing trips to encounter nature. For the past years he organised and lead Sunday walks round local places full of nature. The Society gained many members who started with one of Colins walks.

On top of this he liked to organise short trips away or take part in ones organised by others. I went on a trip he organised on the Isle of Wight. It was a bit too windy for the butterflies and birds we hoped to see. We saw a hedge covered in the gossamer of Ermine moth caterpillars, and saw Nightjar and Woodcock on our last evening.

The other trip of his that I went on, had much more problem with the weather. The week after the queen’s jubilee was very wet in the Chilterns. It was good fun hiding in left-over marquees, and watching the success of the Red Kites introduced to the area.

Thank you Colin, for being part of our society, we owe you our gratitude for all you have done for the society, and for being a great character.

Di Parsons


Other tributes can be found here