Obituary: James Donaldson Lockie, 91

James Lockie's Whim Looms were sold worldwide. Picture: Contributed
James Lockie's Whim Looms were sold worldwide. Picture: Contributed
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Tributes have been paid to research ecologist and loom maker James Donaldson Lockie who has died at the age of 91.

Combining a kind and gentle nature yet with firmly held opinions, James Lockie’s life also combined two careers: as a brilliant research ecologist and university lecturer and as a maker of Whim Looms, sold worldwide.

His deeply held concerns for the care of the planet were still active in the last months of his long life when he wrote to Scottish ministers about the potentially disastrous consequences of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership aimed at reducing regulatory barriers for big business.

After school at the Edinburgh Royal High, he followed his father into the General Post Office as an engineer and, despite being in a reserved occupation, transferred to the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, training to fly fighters and bombers.

Lockie enrolled at Edinburgh University to read zoology, followed by Balliol College, Oxford, where he completed a DPhil on the breeding behaviour of jackdaws, rooks and other corvids. At this time Lockie and his Dutch wife Beatrijs lived in a caravan, the first of many uniquely “Lockyish” habitations that they later created in Scotland.

After Oxford, in 1954, Lockie was amongst the first tranche of scientists employed by the Nature Conservancy.

One of Lockie’s early research projects, while working at its Scottish headquarters in Edinburgh, was on the breeding habits and food of short-eared owls following a vole plague in the Carron Valley, an important type of predator-prey relationship much studied by population ecologists.

After promotion to senior zoologist in the Nature Conservancy, Lockie made a sideways career change to become a highly respected and inspiring lecturer in conservation science at Edinburgh University in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Despite the convenience of life in Edinburgh’s Hermitage Gardens, in the early 1970s the Lockies bought the Whim at Lamancha, Peeblesshire, a three-sided, 18th-century “square” stable block originally built for the Duke of Argyll, comprising several cottages, bothies and a large leaky-roofed shed.

Here, the Lockies, by now assisted by growing-up children, rebuilt the derelict houses. Encouraged by Beatrijs’s skills at spinning and weaving on a small Inkle loom, Lockie took early retirement from his university post and equipped the huge shed to make full-size eight-shaft Whim looms.

Whim looms were sold worldwide, including on the Falkland Islands. On occasions Lockie accompanied a disassembled loom to its destination where he could reassemble the beautifully interlocked frames.

James Lockie is survived by Beatrijs; their five children, Neil, Hamish, Gisela, Finlay and Calum, and seven grandchildren.