LEIGH’S Father of Conservation, 86-years-old Tom Edmondson, has been honoured.

The former “new hide” at Pennington Flash has been renamed “Tom Edmondson Hide” and was unveiled by the pioneer himself on Tuesday.

The country park site attracts more than 750,000 walkers, naturalists and bird watchers a year but the nature haven and bird watching paradise wasn’t always as picturesque or as popular.

Back in 1938 when Tom was a schoolboy at Leigh Grammar School his diaries recorded dense layers of industrial smog, a skyline dotted with headgears and a landscape criss-crossed with railway lines as engines pulled carriages of coal, stone and corn between Bolton and Wigan.

There was even talk of the 70 hectare lake - formed from coal mining subsidence - being filled in.

Fast forward 70 years and visitors to Pennington Flash are greeted not with carts of coal but great crested grebes, little ringed plovers and, in winter, the Northern shoveler.

And there’s little doubt where this transformation from coal subsidence flood plain to nature haven began.

Dave Wilson, 66, is one of the founding members of Leigh Ornithological Society formed in 1971 and an advocate of Thomas Edmondson’s work.

He said: “It’s no overstatement to say Tom’s pioneering spirit makes him the father of conservation not just in Leigh but for the borough as it now is.

“His contribution to alerting people to the importance of the flash as a wildlife haven was massive.

“It’s amazing when you consider the modern day conservation movement really only got going in the 1970s."

Tom’s collection of photographs, diaries, scientific studies, letters and columns written for The Journal are both poetic and powerful. He was a naturalist and campaigner.

In a February 1948 article “Wings Over Industry” he made some highly critical comments on the illegal activity of some “shooters”. This resulted in Tom being approached by angling correspondent William Miles who discussed the possibility of establishing a conservation area at Pennington Flash.

By May 1948 the Leigh Field Naturalists and Town Improvement Society had been formed whose aims included the study and appreciation of natural history and countryside, conserving wildlife and promoting cleanliness and good planning of the district.

As the initial post war enthusiasm faded the group folded in 1950 as people tried to build for the future.

But as Tom, who now lives in Chester, says: “The scheme was visionary and ahead of its time and a decade or so would elapse before the movement to establish county conservation trusts became widespread. However, the rich bird life of the flash had been established and the emergence of a group of like-minded individuals eventually resulted in the formation of the Leigh Ornithological Society.”

One of the society’s many aims was to promote wildlife conservation in the Leigh area.

The result of this new generation of naturalists following in Tom’s footsteps were instrumental in Pennington Flash officially gaining country park status in 1981 and it is now managed by Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.