2017 Cheshire Woman of the Year, Eaton Park

Sylvia Cheater MBE (Chair of the Cheshire Woman Award Society), Hilary Ash (Cheshire Woman of the Ye

Sylvia Cheater MBE (Chair of the Cheshire Woman Award Society), Hilary Ash (Cheshire Woman of the Year 2017), The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of the City of Chester Cllr Angela Claydon and Lord Mayor of Chester's Consort, Maureen McVitty - Credit: Archant

Botanist Hilary Ash has devoted her time to protecting local wildlife and nature conservation. She was announced as the Cheshire Woman of the Year 2017 at an elegant lunch at Eaton Park.

Eaton Park, the home of the Duke of Westminster, was once again the elegant setting for the annual Cheshire Woman of the Year lunch. The event, now in its 32nd year, was attended by exceptional local women from all walks of life, each having been singled out as worthy of the prestigious award. BBC news presenter Jayne McCubbin was the guest speaker.

Around 130 nominees enjoyed a champagne reception followed by a three-course lunch before the announcement of the winner. Each nominee is someone whose services to the community, professional achievements or personal courage led to their name being passed onto the Cheshire Woman of the Year committee, often anonymously.

Botanist Hilary Ash, from Bromborough, was declared this year’s winner and the story of her dedication to local wildlife and nature conservation touched the audience.

Hilary was born and bred in Oxfordshire, but after reading Botany at Oxford, came north to Liverpool University to do a PhD, researching the way native plants grow on industrial waste sites. Hilary, who plays violin, piano and church organ met her husband,John, in a Liverpool orchestra. They settled on the Wirral after marrying in 1982, and they have two adult sons.

Hilary continued as a part-time botanist, doing surveys, management plans and habitat creation work. In 1987 she became involved with the Wirral Group of Cheshire Wildlife Trust (CWT) – known as Wirral Wildlife – and has been active in nature conservation ever since. This has included 28 years of writing responses to planning applications and 30 years as Honorary Conservation Officer for Wirral Wildlife, advising community groups, local authorities, conservation charities and landowners. A key project has been New Ferry Butterfly Park, a CWT nature reserve run by a local team, which has transformed a derelict railway goods yard into a thriving park centred on invertebrates, with a strong educational focus.

When the recent recession badly hit funding, Hilary slipped out of paid work into more nature conservation; and also increased her training of new botanists, old and young – mostly by taking them out on plant surveys.

When not involved with wild plants, Hilary is a gardener, with a half-allotment on Wingate Road Allotments Association in Eastham. This is a self-managed set, of which Hilary was Treasurer for 11 years and is now President. She is organist of St David’s United Reformed Church, Eastham, which she is also helping with Eco-Church certification and a new Forest Church initiative. She also finds time to play violin in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Orchestra.

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