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Former Ellon art teacher made honorary guardian of Antarctic gateway for championing conservation

Bill Smith has been made a lifetime guardian of South Georgia Island.
Bill Smith has been made a lifetime guardian of South Georgia Island.

After a 45-year career as an art teacher, you’d think it was time to hang up the brushes and enjoy a peaceful retirement.

But for Bill Smith, who lives between his homes in Ellon and Lochinver, it was the time for the big adventures to really begin.

And, after raising thousands for conservation projects on the Isle of South Georgia in the Southern Atlantic – he was this week presented with the honorary title of lifetime guardian of the island.

Throughout his fundraising activities over his life, for various charities including Ellon Academy, the Ellon Raft Race and South Georgia as well as many other projects, Mr Smith has raised somewhere in the region of £500,000.

A whole new adventure

Mr Smith retired 12 years ago from Ellon Academy after 36 years at the school. As a first aid trainer he was invited to give first aid training to a polar expedition tour company based in Holland.

From there he has made a second career, or third if you include his time as a ski patroller at Glenshee, in leading tours across the frozen wildernesses of the Antarctic and Arctic as well as lecturing and teaching art with Oceanwide Expeditions.

Bill Smith with seals on South Georgia.

His philosophy, or as he calls it, “his mantra”, is that people need to be aware of the joys of living by being in the moment.

He said: “We have a wonderful time on the expeditions and we see things that are almost impossible to describe: 30-mile long islands of rock and ice, wildlife and the sheer size of the seventh continent.

“As part of the work we do we hold an auction to help with the conservation of South Georgia. In the past it was to eradicate rats from whaling ships that were not indigenous to the island and were eating the ground-nesting bird population.”

South Georgia Island is known for being the place that Shackleton, an explorer of the Antarctic, is buried. Last month Shackleton’s boat was finally located.

He continued: “The rats now been eradicated and the next project is to eradicate all the non-native plant species from the island.”

Bill Smith.

Auctions to support heritage of South Georgia

Mr Smith said that the crew always organise an auction to raise money to support the South Georgia projects.

He said: “The first time we were holding a raffle I tried to put in a book. But one of the crew members said that I should do a picture. So I did, an intricate cartoon, and it raised £400.

“Ever since then I have drawn a picture for the auction and they can raise up to £1,800. But we can raise even more when I auction a blank sheet of paper and I draw something that people want.”

Bill Smith.

Mr Smith explained that his work in the Antarctic is mainly in November, December and January where the cruises of up to 150 people visit South Georgia and the Falklands as well as the continent. In the winter months he is a part-time ski instructor in Glenshee.

He rounds off his year by doing two stints in the Arctic in May and then again later in the summer.

Mr Smith lost his wife Catherine two years ago, his grown-up children and their families live in Aberdeenshire and Perthshire.

He said: “So I am free to be away for long periods of time.”

‘I am overwhelmed’

After an expedition in December the operations manager decided to contact the South Georgia Heritage Trust to explain how much Mr Smith had raised to help in its environmental efforts.

Mr Smith said: “I came back to Ellon from Lochinver today to find a box with a couple of South Georgia hats and a letter congratulating me on receiving an honorary lifetime guardian of South Georgia. I am overwhelmed.”

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