SCHOOL pupils have marked the retirement of their headteacher by erecting a wicker rhino statue in its grounds.

Pupils at Abberley Hall School in Great Witley paid the unusual tribute to John Walker, who steps down this term after 18 years in charge of the school.

The rhino was created by students for Mr Walker as he has an interest in Kenyan wildlife conservation.

Mr Walker said: “I have always had a keen interest in conservation matters, particularly wildlife issues, since living in Kenya previously, so I asked for this sculpture to be created and I am delighted with it.

“I hope it will raise the profile of the plight of endangered species, such as the rhino.

“The project also offered our children a unique opportunity to work on such a large scale and learn the art of willow weaving.”

Final year pupils spent a week working on the project alongside Pershore wicker artists Paul and Steph Simmons of Willowcraft and Woodlands.

The finished animal is three and a half metres long and one and a half metres tall.

During his time as headteacher, Mr Walker has overseen the completion of several large building projects to extend the school’s facilities.

Mr Walker said: “My years at Abberley have been extremely satisfying. I shall miss the children, the team of staff and the unique atmosphere of this wonderful school.”

David Legh, chairman of the school’s governors, said: “Apart from the outstanding academic, artistic and sporting success enjoyed by the school during his time as headteacher, John has been the instigator of a large number of important initiatives.

“These include the building of the indoor swimming pool, the science block, the purchase of the school chalet in France, a new teaching department for younger children and the award-winning conversion of old greenhouses into nine staff apartments in the walled garden.

“His legacy will adorn the school for many years to come.”

Mr Walker will be retiring to his home in France with his wife Janie.

The school has also set up a collection box for visitors to make donations to the World Wide Fund for Nature on behalf of Mr Walker.