A PIONEERING conservationist who hand-fed wild animals and was key in re-establishing red squirrels in Wensleydale has died aged 92.

Jane Kemp was at the heart of the conservation and habitat creation successes of Snaizeholme near Hawes which was bleak, open fell-side until she and her late husband Hugh arrived at Mirk Pot Farm in the mid-1960s.

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The couple originally began planting conifers for timber and the Christmas tree market and soon saw red squirrels move in from Cumbria.

Over time the valley attracted an abundance of wildlife, from crossbills, roe deer and even suspected pine marten who have flourished as a result of the Kemps' conservation work.

Snaizeholme is now a magnet for people wanting to see red squirrels up close and is recognised by the Woodland Trust, the Dales National Park Authority and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as an important area for wildlife.

This was highlighted last summer in a More4 TV programme about life in the Yorkshire Dales where Mrs Kemp was filmed with with red squirrels around her.

Her family described her as 'an amazing woman' who showered her family with warmth and love alongside her devotion to the wildlife at Snaizeholme.

The Northern Echo:

A red squirrel at Snaizeholme Picture: JOHN WALTON

They said: "Jane’s great love for birds saw her record and appreciate the valley’s abundant birdlife, including curlew, woodcock, black grouse, teal and redstarts.

"For years she fed demanding squirrels, pheasants and ducks by hand, so that they would happily congregate around her.

"Jane ensured that a field stronghold of wild orchids remained unplanted with trees, as well as re-introducing deciduous trees around Mirk Pot itself, once conifers had been felled.

"Her warmth and loving presence also ensured that a stream of nieces, nephews, grandchildren and friends were welcomed over the years to stay in the sanctuary of Snaizeholme."

The Kemps also ran a successful holiday cottage business, which saw them convert and rent out first old barns and then cottages in Gayle as well as a Victorian terrace house near York Minster.

Mrs Kemp furnished them all through skilful purchasing at local auctions, and recalled furnishing a whole house for £100 in the seventies.

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Her family say she died peacefully at home in Snaizeholme on December 29 with her sons by her side and that her passing marks 'the end of an era' as she was the youngest of her generation.

Her late husband Hugh, who was a prolific artist, died a decade ago aged 84.

Mrs Kemp leaves behind sons David and Magnus, stepson Chris, David’s wife Siobhan, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A Memorial Service will be held at St Margaret’s Church in Hawes on January 15, at 1pm, following a family-attended burial.

Mrs Kemp's sons have asked for any donations in her memory to be made to the British Trust for Ornithology.

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