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‘Dedicated’ former agency reporter loses cancer battle

A North East journalist who became known for his love of birdwatching has died from cancer, aged 66.

Brian Unwin, left, worked at the Northern Echo for seven years from the mid-1960, covering the Sunderland and Durham patches.

He later spent 14 years as the regional staff reporter for the Press Association, and in more recent years worked as a freelance reporter, and was particularly seen as a specialist on ornithology and conservation issues.

He was also a regular contributor to the Echo until recently, writing the weekly Birdwatch notes.

Brian died peacefully at home last Thursday having fought a three-year battle with cancer of the oesophagus.

Born the son of a miner in Horden, East Durham, in May 1945, he developed an early interest in the natural world from his mother, a farmer’s daughter.

He began his career in journalism with The Journal, in Newcastle, in 1964 and moved to The Northern Echo the following year, then under the editorship of Harold Evans.

During a later second stint on The Journal, he took a sabbatical to join HMS Endurance, the Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship, visiting the Falklands shortly before the conflict with Argentina, enabling him to become something of a regional expert in his coverage of the war.

Among the major stories he covered while the PA’s regional reporter was the Lockerbie disaster, the Tyneside riots, the IRA bombings on Tyneside, as well as reporting on every day of the Cleveland child abuse inquiry.

Brian leaves a widow, Jennifer, son Barry and daughter Beverley, plus seven grandchildren, with another expected in coming months.

Mrs Unwin described her husband as ‘dedicated’ in both his reporting and birdwatching, at times working up to 18 hours a day. He was often to be seen on jobs armed with his binoculars, having stopped off en route to assignments to catch a glimpse of a rare bird visitor to the region.

His expertise in all things ornothological saw him being flown to the Shetlands by PA to cover the aftermath of the Braer oil tanker wreckage in 1993.

On the birdwatching front, he founded the Durham Bird Club in 1975, led several overseas trips to carry out surveys in North America, North Africa, Israel and Sri Lanka, and helped found the Whitburn Bird Observatory.