Martin Holdgate, one of the leaders of British conservation during the past half-century, was born January 14, 1931. He was part of most of the major environmental and conservation developments in England and around the world.
Holdgate studied biological sciences at Cambidge University, completing a doctorate in insect physiology in 1955. At the conclusion of his studies, he joined an expedition to the south Atlantic island of Gough, then a poorly known outpost of the British empire (later made an UNESCO World Heritage site). That expedition spurred Holdgate’s interest in the Antarctic, which continued as he taught courses at Manchester and Durham universities. Eventually, he joined the British Antarctic Survey, becoming its Chief Biologist within a short time.
He moved more directly into the practice of conservation and environment in 1966. He joined the British Nature Conservancy then, performing research that informed their decisions about what lands to protect (the organization is now known as Natural England). Beginning in 1970, he joined the UK Department of the Environment, rising to the position of Chief Scientist and Deputy Secretary prior to his departure in 1988. His time in these agencies coincided with the growth of the environmental movement in the UK, representing a “major step-change after World War 2.”
Holdgate was among the world’s environmental leaders who espoused the concept of sustainable development, recognizing that economic development and environmental sustainability had to work together. He was a member of many global environmental commissions, representing the British government. “The environment,” he noted, “is not against the economy.” Understanding that economy and environment need to go together, he introduced the concept BATNEEC as a guiding principle, requiring that industry use the “Best Available Technology Not Entailing Excessive Costs.” He later apologized for the tongue-twisting acronym.
From 1988 to 1994, he served as Director General of IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). IUCN is the largest association of governments and non-governmental organizations concerned with the environment, most notably providing the scientific guidance for species in peril (the Red List) and for protection of unique and outstanding ecosystems.
Holdgate has been honored broadly for his work on behalf of the environment. He was knighted in 1994, holds several honorary doctorates and is a “Global 500” advisor to the UN Environment Programme. Since retiring, he resides in the English Lake District, where he serves as President of The Friends of the Lake District.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, he succinctly summed up his understanding, after a lifetime of ecological study and public service, of the relationship of humans and nature: “If we muck our environment about, we muck ourselves about.”
Friends of The Lake District. President. Available at: https://www.friendsofthelakedistrict.org.uk/presidentmartinholdgate. Accessed January 13, 2018.
Holdgate, Mr. 1988. Interview profile of Dr. Martin Holdgate. The Environmentalist 8(2):87-91 (June 1988). Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02240273. Accessed January 13, 2018.
The Guardian. 2012. Martin Holdgate: reconciling the economy to the environment has been a huge achievement since WW2 (video interview). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2012/jun/13/martin-holdgate-economy-environment. Accessed January 13, 2018.
United Nations Environment Programme. Sir Martin Holdgate, CB PhD FIBiol. Global 500 Advisors. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20100605000825/http://www.global500.org:80/smholdgate.html. Accessed January 13, 2018.