Dr Martin Warren has had a 40-year career in ecology and conservation, including 23 years leading the world’s largest insect conservation charity, Butterfly Conservation which he joined in 1993, overseeing a massive growth in membership from 3,000 to 35,000. Martin was voted as a top-10 British conservationist by BBC Wildlife magazine and has previously received the Marsh Award for Insect Conservation. Last year, he was awarded an OBE for services to the environment. Today, Bournemouth University is very proud to award Martin Warren OBE an Honorary Doctor of Science.
But how does receiving an Honorary Doctorate compare to receiving an OBE?
“There’s no royalty involved today! But it’s similar because you’re suddenly in the spotlight. I feel slightly overawed but very excited by this great privilege of being given this award – it’s fabulous to be recognised.”
A distinguished and lengthy career in a chosen field has to begin somewhere and Martin’s early interest in butterflies and insects started at a very early age.
“I’ve been interested in butterflies since I was a young kid and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to follow them through as a career, studying them first through ecology – I did my PhD on butterflies - then I’ve been very lucky to be employed by Butterfly Conservation to actually use some of the knowledge that I’d gained, to use some of the knowledge to implement conservation strategies for them.”
The conservation of butterflies and moths isn’t just an academic pursuit for Martin, it’s a lifelong passion and one that is environmentally very important.
“Many butterflies are in decline, but with Butterfly Conservation, my team together with like-minded people, I could actually get something down on the ground. And that was really what excited me was to use my knowledge to change things and improve things but not only butterflies but for human kind as well. We’re so interlinked with nature that there’s a thread running through from the butterflies and insects right through to the survival of humankind. It was that thread that I wanted to make sure was strong and that we looked after the things that we care about that we need in the world.”
Martin’s advice for people who may want to emulate his career is to follow your dream and stay on the path – wherever it may lead you.
“You never quite know where it’s going may take you. I followed my heart by doing a PhD in butterflies which most career advisors wouldn’t advise you to do and indeed there weren’t really careers in butterflies. But it was my passion, and because of that passion and because of the knowledge that I gained through university, I could then see how I could apply that. So effectively, I created my own job then, because I applied for grants, and so on and finding places where I could use those skills was something that I believed in. So you’ve got to have a bit of perseverance as well as a bit of luck and obviously your knowledge. If you’ve got the knowledge, somebody will grab you at some point, because everybody wants good people. So if you’re good at what you do, and you’re good at explaining it to other people, then you’ll go far.”
Martin has acquired many skills throughout his lengthy career and not all of them are related to lepidoptery. Some are far more prosaic but arguably equally valuable.
“Applying for grants is definitely a skill it’s good to have! You need a range of skills, you need your academic skills, the technical skills, but it’s good also to be a good team player. Nearly all the big team breakthroughs nowadays are done by teams because things are too big to do as individuals. There was a time when individuals could just do stuff on their own and that was enough, but working as a team, which I find more exciting, using people of different skills sets; you can do more. You can achieve more working as a team. And team working is a soft skill, it’s not stuff you can get taught – you learn it by doing it. Learning how to get the best out of a team is a really useful skill in many walks of life.”
Finding your path in life can be confusing but Martin has some very wise advise for today’s graduates who may be considering their options.
“Pursue the things you’re passionate about because if you’re doing things which you’re not really passionate about, you won’t overcome all the hurdles that will get thrown at you. Then your life will become more problematic. So follow your dreams as far as you can, about things that you really love and really inspire you – either to learn or – in my case to do something about conservation, it will carry you through all the hurdles, and you’ll learn the stuff that you don’t know. We’ve all got things to learn, all the way through our lives, and if you’re motivated and passionate about something, you’ll learn it and that will make you go further and hopefully be successful.”