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Tower Hamlets 'Green Hero' Terry Lyle receives honorary doctorate

Local environmentalist urges graduates to help the natural world

Terry Lyle, the man credited with spearheading community efforts to preserve and enhance the green spaces of Tower Hamlets, has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Social Sciences by the University of East London (UEL). 

Mr Lyle (pictured centre, with UEL Chancellor Shabir Randeree, right, and UEL Chair of Govenors Geoff Thompson) received his doctorate on 18 July at a graduation ceremony for students of UEL’s Cass School of Education and Communities. 

He said, “I never thought about university, it felt beyond me, but here I am today with you.”

He left school at 16 and went straight into nature conservation work. Aged 18, Mr Lyle headed to Australia, doing a number of forest conservation jobs. 

He decided to try some evening classes and surprised himself with his abilities. 

It ultimately led to him receiving a scholarship to study for a degree in economics, followed by several years teaching, before returning to the UK for postgraduate study.

He says, “Back in Tower Hamlets, I was discovering a natural world of hundreds of then still undeveloped, though usually fly-tipped, bomb sites, with remarkable wildlife such as rabbits near Tower Bridge, flocks of hundreds of linnets and goldfinches, and large colonies of Common Blue butterflies.”

He was offered a job with the Tower Hamlets Environment Trust in 1981, spending the next 24 years leading and supporting community green projects.

While working full-time he helped to found the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, an 11 hectare historic cemetery which closed in 1966, and was subsequently turned into a park.

The park now boasts ponds and wildflower meadows, and diversified woodlands, as well as a social network presence, and a full programme of public events relating to nature and heritage.

Mr Lyle concluded his acceptance speech, saying, “I thought about all of you receiving your degrees today, in many disciplines, and I want you to know that whatever your specialism, you have within your future career the capacity to do something to help the natural world.

“There’s no discipline where you can’t help the environment. I’d like to leave you with this thought, ‘what can I do to help the natural world.’ Thank you.”