”Flyway: connecting people and migratory waterbirds” story series #5 – Dr. Martin Spray, Chair of EAAFP Finance Sub-Committee, Former Chief Executive of WWT

Dr. Martin Spray, CBE ©Martin Spray

The EAAFP Secretariat is honored to feature Dr. Martin Spray on our Flyway Story series. Until May 2020 Martin was the Chief Executive of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), one of EAAFP Partners. WWT is the leading UK NGO specialising in the conservation of wetlands across the world.

Martin was born in London and has lived in the UK all of his life. was educated at Tiffin School, Kingston upon Thames, and University of Wales, Swansea and has a BSc in Zoology. His career has spanned public, business and not for profit sectors, the last 30 years as CEO of three UK conservation charities.

In 1988, following 14 years in government service holding a variety of management positions, he joined the conservation world with WWF UK and then to the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust as its first Chief Executive. Prior to moving to WWT in 2004 he was seconded to the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, the coordinating organisation for 47 independent UK Wildlife Trusts, as its Chief Executive to steer it through a period of substantial change. Past roles have included various chair and member board positions, including Chair of the UK’s Marine Conservation Society.

Martin was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty The Queen in 2013 for services to nature conservation. The same year he received an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Roehampton.

EAAFP: Hi Martin, could you tell us your relationship with EAAFP, and what is your current work now after retired from the position as Chief Executive of WWT?
Martin: My personal connection with the EAAFP was at MoP 9 in Singapore as Chief Executive of the UK’s leading wetland conservation organization, WWT, and continues as WWT representative following my retirement from the organisation this year. I am a member of the Management Committee of the Partnership and Chair of its Finance Sub-Committee and of its Strategic Planning Task Force. I am currently Chair of England’s Wildlife and Countryside Link, an NGO coordinating a consortium of 58 environmental organisations to influence government policies and decisions.

EAAFP: How did you start the career of nature conservation?
Martin: My passion for nature began very early in my childhood and was encouraged by my family. I gained a degree in Zoology and then worked in the government’s Science & Engineering Research Council and the Treasury for 14 years in a variety of management roles. I did voluntary work for Greenpeace and WWF UK for a number of years and then was offered the opportunity to join WWF UK. I spent 3 very happy years with them before moving to a regional Wildlife Trust and 30 years as Chief Executive of three conservation organisations, one regional, one national and finally international with WWT, established in 1946 by globally renowned conservationist Sir Peter Scott.

EAAFP: Please tell us more about your experiences in nature conservation?
Martin: My experience in nature conservation has not been in practical on the ground work but in leadership, strategic development and direction, and in influencing others. My work has involved substantial travel and contact with a wide range of people from members of the British Royal Family to Government Ministers in the UK and other countries, to other NGO leaders, national and international, and various business leaders. It has involved speaking at conferences around the world and hosting important influencing events. It has been a fascinating and rewarding career and there is still much to do and achieve.

EAAFP: What was the most memorable experience in your conservation life?
Martin: My career in conservation has given me so many memorable experiences, from introducing the Emperor of Japan to nature conservation on an English Farm, co-hosting a workshop in China on integrating wetland conservation and urban development, opening the largest coastal re-alignment project in the UK, seeing a shoe billed stork in Uganda, to hosting a large reception with the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace in London. But I think the greatest privilege was, at the request of Sir Peter Scott’s family, to have my office for 8 years in the famous studio room in his house at WWT headquarters. The studio, named by conservationist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough as the “birthplace of modern conservation”, has seen great conservation developments including the planning of the creation of WWF, the early planning the Ramsar Convention, monitoring techniques for migratory wildfowl, and the creation of the IUCN red lists. To have it as my office, kept exactly as it was when Sir Peter was alive, was a privilege for anyone involved in nature conservation.

EAAFP: What is your plan or what do you want to do after your retirement?
Martin: I do not regard my retirement from WWT after 16 years at its helm as full retirement. I end my second term on the EAAFP Management Committee at the MoP 11 next year but I hope to stay involved with the Partnership and to contribute in whatever ways I can. I also have other options to pursue when the current pandemic finally clears. We face some enormous environmental challenges and I want to stay actively involved.

EAAFP: Is there any other thing or message you want to tell the audience of the Flyway?
Martin: The EAAFP, as a voluntary partnership of government and non-government organisations, in my view demonstrates true international collaboration for nature conservation, collaboration that will be needed on an increasing level over the coming decade if we are to avoid a global crisis and collapse of the planetary system. I am extremely proud to be involved.

Dr. Martin Spray speaking at the EAAFP Secretariat 10th Anniversary ceremony in 2019 ©EAAFP

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