On Tuesday 29th October 2019 the British wildlife travel industry lost one of its true pioneers when John Brodie Good, the founder and lynchpin of WildWings, died shortly after suffering a heart attack. Wildlife conservation also lost a great friend as John had been an extremely generous long-time supporter and benefactor of many conservation projects around the world.
John grew up in London UK and was already an enthusiastic birder whilst still at primary school. He remained passionate about birding throughout his teenage years and developed lifelong friendships with many young London birders such as Dick Filby, Clive Byers and Ray O’Reilly, who also all became well-known names in the UK birding scene.
On leaving school, John started a lifelong career in the travel industry and after working for Twickenham Travel in London in the late 1970s, he moved to Weymouth and became a regional manager for Bakers Dolphin Travel. He was soon dreaming of starting a specialist Travel Agency for birders, and this being the pre-internet era, when independent travellers looking for the best deals were using specialist airfare agencies (bucket shops), John set up WildWings. Created as a new division of Bakers Dolphin Travel, WildWings initially specialised in independent travel for birders. John had an excellent knowledge of, and access to, fantastic flight-only deals and great rates on car hire at many of the world’s birding destinations and WildWings was off to a solid start.
It was not long before John started to look at group travel, as there were many places where truly independent travel was simply not possible, extremely difficult or too costly. Early destinations for WildWings tours were as diverse as the world is large. John, with help from Dick Filby, made Antarctica truly accessible to birders firstly on the Ocean Princess and then on the Marco Polo.
This early success was followed with events such as the Polish Bird Festival which began almost immediately after the country opened up. The early festivals led by Dick were amazing events, with over a hundred participants staying in a Communist Bloc “Youth Hostel”. The truly unique aspect was an extensive choice of guided daily excursions running from as early as 4 am and sometimes ending after midnight, so every participant got to build their own holiday as the week progressed, based on the previous day’s successes and individual personal desires. It was a very successful formula and ran for many years, although in more recent times, the format changed with the trip being a fully guided tour targeting key species that had sadly become increasingly difficult to see.
The Beidaihe spring migration trip led by Mark Andrews also became a similar long-term success and was equally flexible with clients having the opportunity to spend the day either birding with the leader, or alone or in small groups. This gave participants the opportunity to tailor the trips to their own requirements/target species and to bird at their own pace for as long as they wanted.
Other ground-breaking trips in the early years included a Galapagos Islands endemics trip and a trip to the Central Pacific islands which included the first opportunity for birders, including the world’s top lister Phoebe Snetsinger, to see the iconic Tuamotu Sandpiper. WildWings soon gained a reputation for pioneering, innovative wildlife trips to far-flung corners of the globe and built up a large and loyal customer base, many of whom became personal friends of John, Sarah and the WildWings leaders.
John always had a keen interest in seabirds and cetaceans, and with the help of leaders including Chris Collins, Tony Marr and Dick Filby developed an exceptional range of pelagic trips. Whilst some of these were organised through close associations and friendships with expedition cruise operators such as Heritage Expeditions and Oceanwide Expeditions, others were charters organised by John.
Some of these tours allowed WildWings clients to be amongst the first to see some of the world’s truly mythical seabirds with multiple ‘world first’ sightings for a tour. These included Beck’s Petrel, Bryan’s Shearwater and Ainley’s Storm-petrel to name a few. Indeed, it was during the 2008 Western Pacific Odyssey, developed jointly by John, Chris Collins and Rodney Russ (owner of Heritage Expeditions) that the New Caledonian Storm-petrel was first seen – a bird now accepted as a good species.
Around the turn of the millennium, John and Richard Webb started looking to expand the WildWings offering by offering mammal watching tours and in 2004 WildWings became the first European tour company to offer tours to Brazil to see Jaguars, at a time when it was considered virtually impossible to see this species reliably in the wild. Four different individuals were found on that first tour and since then, WildWings have launched many other new and innovative mammal tours including the first dedicated trips to look for Pumas in Chile, Spectacled Bears in Ecuador and Red Pandas, Chinese Mountain and Pallas’s Cats in China. John’s pioneering spirit helped create new opportunities which many other tour companies have followed, enabling many people to see species that were previously thought to be almost impossible to find in the wild.
One of John’s final personal trips was in early 2019 to India and Nepal, where he and Sarah enjoyed seeing their first Tigers. The death of a number of his friends during the previous eighteen months had been a wake-up call to him and he was planning to do much more travelling including a fantastic itinerary in China to see his most wanted mammal, Red Panda, along with Snow Leopard and hopefully even a wild Giant Panda. It is both ironic and unfair that having put an inordinate amount of effort into providing so many people with the opportunity to visit wonderful places and see so many amazing birds and mammals, John was not able to fulfil all of his and Sarah’s dreams.
John was terrific to work with. WildWings was his extended family and he treated the WildWings team and clients as if they were his family. His funeral said everything you needed to know about the high regard in which he was held. The chapel was packed with friends, family and clients, some having travelled from as far afield as New York to attend.
John was an outstanding person and it is an honour to have been able to call him a friend. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him. Our deepest and heartfelt sympathies go to his partner Sarah and his whole family.
Chris Collins, Dick Filby and Richard Webb