It is not always possible to combine the great loves of one's life. 

But for Ralph Nickerson, he was able to merge his passion for both dendrology – the study of trees – and Africa. 

With both his volunteer work and a career with the Forestry Commission, he was able to move seamlessly between his birthplace of England and life in Botswana. 

And as a result, he leaves behind numerous connections forged throughout all walks of his life.

Beccles & Bungay Journal: Ralph Nickerson (far right) visiting friends and family in England in 2022Ralph Nickerson (far right) visiting friends and family in England in 2022 (Image: Courtesy of friends and family)

Ralph Arthur Nickerson was born on May 12, 1942, during the middle of the Second World War.  

He was the second of three boys and arrived during a bombing raid on Norwich, five miles north of Shotesham where the Nickerson family lived in south Norfolk. 

He first attended primary school in Norwich before Bungay Grammar School, in Suffolk, where he made many life-long friends. 

School friend Dan Simms, who spoke on behalf of the many Bungay school friends who paid tribute to him, said: “We all remember him as a rather shy boy who soon gained self-confidence and became quite a daring prankster in the classroom. 

“Several of us finished up outside the headmaster's room waiting for the inevitable cane.”

He would also go on to become a stalwart member of the Bracondale School Association. 

Beccles & Bungay Journal: The former Bungay Grammar SchoolThe former Bungay Grammar School (Image: Newsquest library)

Having become bored with the grammar school’s sixth form, Ralph left school to join the Forestry Commission. He enjoyed his first practical year at Holkham Hall in north Norfolk as an apprentice in the estate’s forest. 

He then attended the Forestry Commission College in Pitlochry near Perth, Scotland, to study. Here he received his forestry qualifications. 

After college, he began forestry work in England before moving to Botswana in Africa – where he had always had a fascination with – to work with the Voluntary Service Overseas. The Forestry Commission did not agree with this proposal, so he resigned. 

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After his time in Botswana, he was unable to rejoin the Forestry Commission so went to Canada for a season of tree felling – something he described as “a great experience”. 

When the season finished, he travelled down through the United States and South America, before eventually moving to South Africa where he married his wife and local woman, Emily. 

Together, they had a son named Conrad, who was named after Ralph’s interest in the writer Joseph Conrad, before moving back to England where Ralph got a job in private forestry.

Beccles & Bungay Journal: Ralph NickersonRalph Nickerson (Image: Courtesy of friends and family)

Eventually Emily became unwell, and she returned to Botswana with Conrad, before her death. 

From then on, Ralph’s career alternated between working in private forestry in England and on various tree projects in Botswana for American charities in particular. 

Later, he met and married Joyce and they had two children; Danny and Naledi.  

During his last move to England, he rejoined the Forestry Commission and worked from its headquarters at Alice Holt, near Farnhan, Surrey. During this time, the family attended their local church, St James in Rowledge and helped there. 

He retired during the early 2000s and moved to the village of Serowe in the Botswana district. Joyce died in December 2020. 

Despite serious ill health, Ralph visited England for his 80th birthday last year. 

Mr Simms added: “Ralph was a great communicator, first by Airmail letters in his unique handwriting, and more recently by text and email. 

“He made many friends as well as us from school; there were friends and colleagues from all over the world.” 

Friend Brian Jarvis added: “He was a devote Christian and belonged to a Masonic lodge. 

“Above all, he was a good old 'Norfolk boy' and was a regular contributor to The Mardler magazine, Friends of Norfolk Dialect (FOND), and similar local magazines.” 

  • Ralph died aged 80 on December 12, 2022, at Watford Hospital after his health deteriated rapidly. His funeral took place on January 17 at St James’ Church.