Tributes have poured in for a multi-millionaire railway enthusiast who once rescued the steam locomotive Flying Scotsman from spending its days in a museum in America.

Sir William McAlpine passed away at the weekend aged 82 following a period of illness, with tributes coming in thick and fast on social media, including one from TV presenter Ben Fogle who said he was “devastated” at the passing of the “gentleman and [his] friend”.

A number of exotic animals from the former High Sherriff of Buckinghamshire’s Fawley Hill estate have been spotted in and around Marlow in recent years, with his wife and animal lover Lady McAlpine confirming some of them belonged to her.

Wycombe MP Steve Baker paid tribute to the Wycombe Conservative Association president, saying he would “very much miss our gentle, noble, witty and generous rock of the association”.

He said: “It is with sadness we learned of Sir William McAlpine’s death, who will be deeply missed by the Wycombe Conservative Association. He was a great supporter of the Conservative party locally and nationally.

“He succeeded his father, Lord McAlpine, as president and has been a gentle, noble, witty and generous rock of the association for nearly thirty years.

“He gave wise counsel to many, and always had time to discuss politics with successive MPs, Association chairmen and the wider the voluntary party.

“He always had an interesting view on the current political scene, garnered from his experience in business and charity, and many of us will remember his warmth and kindness throughout the years we knew him.

“Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

The baronet was well-known for rescuing steam locomotive the Flying Scotsman, bringing it back to England from America after it was set to spend the rest of its days in a museum.

The Railways Heritage Trust, of which he was chairman, also mourned his death, hailing Sir William for helping to bring a “sense of purpose to the restoration and reuse of the most significant railway buildings”.

Executive director Andy Savage said in a statement: “We are sorry to record the passing of our chairman, Sir William McAlpine, on March 4.

“Sir William (Bill) was in at the start of the Railway Heritage Trust in 1985, and he led the enterprise, with his own special brand of enthusiasm, skill and dedication, for 33 years.

“Under his leadership there has been nationwide recognition and acknowledgement of the unique place in our society of railway architecture.

“He helped bring a sense of purpose to the restoration and reuse of the most significant railway buildings and their interiors, as well as the revelation of architectural treasures within the railway estate that otherwise could have been lost.

“Bill championed initiatives, lobbied for support, encouraged diverse and effective participation from influential people, and used his own individual charm and wellbeing to supplement it all.”