SOLDIER, musician and conservationist, Major Tony Crease, the founder of Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve, has died.

A Scotsman by birth, after joining the Army at the age of 15, through hard work and dedication he gradually worked his way up through the ranks.

In 1971, he took over as Pipe Major of the newly-formed Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, serving in this role until 1978. It is not a well-known fact but he was the inspiration behind the number one hit “Amazing Grace” that topped the charts in 1972.

He had the idea to record the tune and made a suitable arrangement to accommodate the pipes and drums. The tune was included in an album of military music and chosen as the main track. An overwhelming response from the record-buying public saw it outsell its nearest rival by 10,000 copies per day. This led to the Pipes & Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards receiving a gold disc.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Tony Crease with the gold disc for selling 1m recordsTony Crease with the gold disc for selling 1m records

On his return from Iraq in 1992, after the first Gulf War, Major Crease was posted to Catterick Garrison. Looking for somewhere to exercise his two border collies, he came across part of the training area fenced off during the 1970s, and had an idea that was to be his long-lasting legacy.

Hitting on the idea of a nature reserve, he applied to the Ministry of Defence for permission to use the area, and was initially given 28 acres.

He explained: “It was an absolute wilderness – we had to fight our way in and you couldn’t walk through it. We actually used tanks and a light armoured vehicle to clear a space.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Tanks and light vehicle cleared the site for Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve to take shapeTanks and light vehicle cleared the site for Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve to take shape

Right from the start, it was clear to Major Crease that the public should be allowed access. A management group was quickly established and statutory designation followed, the first in the UK to receive this legal protection.

Foxglove Covert now covers 100 acres and has been intentionally developed as a rare mix of 12 different habitats. Its woodland, wetland, and moorland is amongst the top three bird-ringing sites in the country.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Major Tony Crease came across an unused area in 1992 and had the idea of a nature reserveMajor Tony Crease came across an unused area in 1992 and had the idea of a nature reserve

On retirement from the Army, Major Crease continued to work full time for the MoD as the deputy commander for the Military Training Estate. This role allowed him to continue to oversee matters at Foxglove.

Passionate about conservation, he also led the team for Operation AUK, an annual assessment of seabird levels at Cape Wrath.

However it was for Foxglove he will be most remembered. More than 500,000 people have visited since that opening day. His warm personality charmed guests, be they the Prince of Wales, politicians, community or youth groups. He was always the same – passionate and knowledgeable.

Never one to let things slide or stand still, Major Crease's enormous energy and enthusiasm ensured that the reserve was properly staffed, funded and constantly moving forwards.

In recent months, he became increasingly ill and was forced to stop working in his job and at Foxglove.

Major Tony Crease MBE BEM died peacefully at his home in North Yorkshire on January 4, aged 73. His funeral will be private, but it is hoped to hold a celebration of his life at a later date.