Andrew John Lees was born in Great Yarmouth on 8th June 1949. Andrew was a son of Norfolk with a passion for its big skies, low-lying landscape and traditional village culture. Most of all he loved its myriad of rivers and streams, dykes, marshes and fens and its rich diversity of wildlife. The Norfolk Broads; where earth meets water, was where Andrew was happiest.
In 1967, Lees enrolled at the University of Wales in Cardiff to study zoology, botany and philosophy. Graduating with Honours in 1971, he worked as a field scientist with the Nature Conservancy Council.
As a scientist, Lees’ uncompromising commitment to nature conservation first emerged in 1978, when he was surveying Crymlyn Bog in Wales. Having determined that this unique habitat was a potential candidate for special protection, he organised the local community and the media to stop it being turned into a rubbish tip. In 1981, working with the Friends of the Earth, he obtained leave for a Judicial Review on the
Nature Conservancy Council’s failure to notify part of the bog as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The NCC backed down and the site was given SSSI protection. Crymlyn Bog achieved world status as a Ramsar Site in 1993.
Lees left Wales in late 1981 and returned to his native Norfolk. The Broads were under serious threat from proposals to build deep drainage and barrier systems that would turn the wetlands into vast prairies of cereal production. The beautiful Halvergate Marshes, Wicken Fen, Hickling Broad and a whole network of rivers, dykes and fens that make up the Broadlands unique wildlife habitat would be damaged or lost forever. He applied his scientific knowledge to identify the threats to the Broads. In 1982, he helped to set up the Broadlands Friends of the Earth. He succeeded in galvanising local and national opinion against the scheme and was largely responsible for saving the Halvergate Marshes.
In 1986, after much campaigning large tracts of marshlands were designated an Environmentally Sensitive Area. Two years later, under intense public pressure, the Government passed the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads 1988 Act. The Broads Authority became a Special Statutory Authority with duties to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Broads. The Broads were protected; a success due in large measure to Lees’ tenacious campaigning and commitment.
In 1985, Lees was appointed the Friends of the Earth National Campaign Officer for the Countryside and Pesticides and later, in 1986, as the Water Pollution and Toxics Campaigner. He organised the Dirty Dozen campaign to expose a group of highly toxic chemicals, some of which would later, became subject to much tighter regulatory controls; others, were banned altogether.
In 1988, he went to Nigeria and exposed the illegal dumping of 8,000 tonnes of mainly Italian toxic waste at Koko, on the Niger Delta.
Lees was a skilled media man and knew a good story instinctively. Journalists respected him. He could articulate complicated science in a language they understood. Lees would go for the jugular of any hapless politician, civil servant or industrialist, who dared to put the environment at risk. He believed people had a right to know and organised various campaigns to raise awareness of environmental problems.
In 1990, Lees became the Friends of the Earth's National Campaign’s Director. His enthusiastic and combative campaigning style never abated. He was empowering and supportive, always encouraging others to realise their aspirations, hopes and dreams.
In 1994, he turned his attention to Madagascar. A mining company, QIT, owned by Rio Tinto Zinc, was proposing to mine parts of the island for titanium dioxide. Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island and home to some of the most remarkable flora and fauna on earth. Lees went to Madagascar with the intention of making a film documentary to support his campaign. Sadly, he never completed the project. Despite suffering from chronic diarrhoea he decided, on New Year's Eve, to go one last time into the Petriky Forest alone to shoot one last piece of film. On 7th January, after days of searching, his body was found in a small clearing in the forest. The autopsy later indicated he had died of heat exhaustion.