Neville Brickell is one of our true unsung conservation heroes

23 Jan

Neville Brickell as a natural history film maker in the early sixties

As a highly dedicated stills photographer and filmmaker on birds, both in the wild as well as in captivity, Neville Brickell spent a lot of his early days going around to schools teaching young children, in what was then known as the province of Natal in South Africa, all about our magnificent birds. Later over the years he also had many popular as well as scientific articles and books published on various bird species found in the Southern African region .


The outstanding The complete book of Southern African Birds first published in 1989. Example of Neville Brickell's writing and photography on the Bronze Mannikin ( Spermestes cucullatus )

Often spending many weeks at a time in the wild, gathering data, photographing  and filming birds, Neville was both a true ornithologist as well as an aviculturist , and was an enthusiastic contributor to both disciplines of natural history. He once told me that, in those early years , he wouldn’t dare mention to the birding club guys that he was also an aviculturist because birders, in general, did not approve of people that kept birds in captivity, no matter what the reason was.

 How times have changed as things progressed…when birding worldwide, as a recreational pastime, suddenly took off in the eighties and nineties publishers desperately wanted and needed reference photographs and data on dozens of different bird species. Neville was in the right place at the right time, and was able to help many a book publisher ( Often readers of these magnificent coffee table books were unaware of the fact that the source material was sometimes obtained from aviculturists who had often studied, photographed or filmed some of the birds in captivity )

The authoritative Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa 6th edition published in 1993. The first edition was published in 1940

So valued had the role of the aviculturist become that Professor Gordon Lindsay Maclean , who had been given the unenviable task in 1993 to compile the content for the sixth edition of the most authoritative book on birds in Southern Africa namely:  Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa , approached Neville Brickell and other aviculturists to provide him with nesting and incubation data, when this information sometimes was not available from birds in the wild. Finally the two important natural history disciplines of ornithology and aviculture started to work together to advance the knowledge of bird conservation. 

In 2005 Neville Brickell was one of the founder members of the Rare Finch Conservation Group and once again he made an important contribution , along with his fellow RFCG members Fred Barnicoat and William van Rijn, by providing significant input to help establish what is arguably the world’s most comprehensive website on threatened finches. Neville Brickell is, without doubt, one of our modern day conservation heroes and now spends his well deserved leisure years in a retirement home
The Rare Finch Conservation Group has no full-time staff members and every member of the group volunteers their skills and services in the interests of advancing finch conservation work. The RFCG is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation . It is totally dependent on donations and sponsorships for its future survival . The RFCG is currently raising funds ( US$ 25,000 is needed ) to finance its planned Phase 3 field research work in Uganda.  For more information on this pioneering conservation group please contact

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