A LIFE-size African beast has appeared in the grounds of a school as a farewell present to its retiring headmaster.

The wicker rhino has emerged at Abberley Hall school near Tenbury Wells and forms part of pupils' tribute to John Walker, who steps down this term after 18 years' service at the helm of the independent school, which has 300 pupils aged from three to 13.

"I have always had a keen interest in conservation matters, particularly wildlife issues as I previously lived in Kenya, 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," commented John.

He has overseen the development of the school during his time as headmaster, including the completion of several large building projects to improve and extend facilities. He was also named prep school headmaster of the year in 2008 by the Tatler Good Schools Guide.

He will be retiring to his home in France with his wife Janie and will spend his time producing wine at his vineyard and walking his dogs.

"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," commended John, who will be succeeded as headmaster by Will Lockett in September.

Chairman of Abberley Hall's governors, the Honorable David Legh, said: "Quite apart from the outstanding academic, artistic and sporting success enjoyed by the school during his time as headmaster, John has been the instigator of a large number of important initiatives included 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."

Final year pupils spent a week on the rhino project, working with 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 in total and there is now a collection box at the school for visitors to make donations to the World Wildlife Fund.