Keith Hiscock was brought-up next to the sea in Ilfracombe and, while still at school, developed a fascination for marine life. A fortuitous combination of interests in marine biology, diving and photography and a great deal of good luck (being in the right place at the right time) has provided him with the opportunity to become a leading marine ecologist and conservation scientist in Britain.
His early interest in seashore life and especially cold-water corals progressed through a degree in Zoology with Botany in London and then a PhD studying The Influence of Water Movement on the Ecology of Sublittoral Rocky Areas at the then University College of North Wales in Bangor. Learning to dive at the University of London Sub Aqua Club and contact with leading diving biologists in the late 1960s led to expedition diving in Britain and Ireland and, most significantly, leading field trips to Lundy to collect the information that would be needed to manage the area in what became Britain’s first marine nature reserve.
All of those studies inevitably required diving and the chance to ‘make his name’ as a subtidal marine ecologist through, what was then, the relatively new technique of scuba diving.
After a short period monitoring rocky shores around Anglesey, he was appointed as Deputy Director of the Field Studies Council Oil Pollution Research Unit at Orielton Field Centre in Pembrokeshire in 1975. From there, he, with many others, developed the methods and equipment that would be used to describe, catalogue and classify seabed habitats and their associated communities (now known as ‘biotopes’) around Britain through a series of studies commissioned by the then Nature Conservancy Council (NCC).
When the NCC determined that a Marine Nature Conservation Review of Great Britain (MNCR) was needed, he was appointed to head that team in 1987. That work involved teams of diving biologists and catalogued much of what we know about the marine biology of our shallow seas. In 1998, the MNCR was ‘finished’, although far from complete. By now employed by English Nature, he had seen the need to bring together marine biological information and make it more useful for environmental protection and management, including through a new medium called ‘The Internet’.
That vision was achieved with the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and is the Marine Life information Network (MarLIN) and its ‘spin-outs’: the Data Archive for Marine Species and Habitats and much of the education programme at the MBA. Having retired in 2007, he has continued to contribute to work at the MBA and is an Associate Fellow there as well as pursuing those passions for marine biology, diving and photography in his own time.
Keith has featured in several television programmes that were shot underwater as what he describes as the ‘local yokel’. He has been Chairman of the Lundy Field Society since 2008 and is currently (2017) Chairman of Plymouth Sound Branch of the BSAC.
Keith has authored or co-authored over 60 papers or chapters in books and journals and over 80 limited circulation reports as well as numerous magazine articles. In August 2014, Routledge published his book ‘Marine biodiversity conservation: a practical approach’. The book describes the most recent science that underpins marine biodiversity conservation and provides essential reading for all those involved in decision-making about protecting life in our seas. Now, he has completed the drafting of a book dominated by underwater images from all around Britain and entitled Exploring Britain’s Hidden World: the Natural History of Seabed Habitats. The book will be published by Wild Nature Press in October 2017.