Bryan Campbell Clarke was born on June 24 1932 and spent the early years of his life in Nottinghamshire, where his father was a leather dealer. Following the outbreak of war he was sent away to the Bahamas, where, running wild on the seashore, he developed an interest in shells and snails. Returning to Britain in 1945, he won a scholarship to Magdalen College School, Oxford. After two years’ National Service as a pilot officer in the RAF, he read Zoology at Magdalen College, Oxford, then took a DPhil.
Following three years as a Nature Conservancy research student at Oxford, in 1959 he moved to Edinburgh University, where he rose from assistant lecturer to reader in the Zoology department. In 1971 he was appointed Foundation Professor of Genetics at Nottingham University, where he remained until his retirement in 1997 (after which he became professor emeritus), serving as head of department from 1971 to 1976, and again from 1981 to 1993.
Clarke rescued some of the Partula snails by taking them back to his laboratory in Nottingham, where they thrived on a diet of porridge, lettuce and tissue paper. He managed to breed five of the seven species he brought back, sending specimens to zoos around the world, helping to establish an international breeding programme. In 1994 some of the snails were reintroduced to a specially-protected trial reserve on the Pacific island of Moorea. The experiment showed that the snails could be successfully reintroduced.