Dr Martin Warren - 23 years of saving butterflies and moths

Martin Warren Butterfly Hike 2015

Butterfly Conservation (BC) Chief Executive Dr Martin Warren is to retire in December. Here he looks back at 23 years of saving butterflies and moths.

"After much deliberation and with a heavy heart, I have decided to stand down as Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation at the end of the year. It has been a very hard decision to make as I have had almost 23 wonderful and productive years with BC, 13 of them as Chief Executive. However, now seems the right time to move on and give me time to pursue my other interests.

I first started working for BC in 1993, when I was appointed its first Conservation Officer on a three year contract. I thought I would just give it those three years, so it is astonishing to look back after another twenty! At that time, BC had a membership of around 10,000 and three admin staff based at its Head Office in Essex. I was originally based at home in my living room, where I had a very basic Amstrad computer linked to a daisy wheel typewriter that chugged out a whole page in a minute. Life was so much simpler then with no email and no mobile phones - oh how things have changed. 

Fast forward to the present day and we now have 28,000 members and more than 70 staff based in offices around the UK. It has been a hectic 23 years and a huge team effort by everyone concerned. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my colleagues, who have worked tirelessly to develop the organisation and make some seriously important gains in conserving our wonderful butterflies and moths.

Among the many fantastic achievements in this time has been the development of world-leading recording and monitoring schemes on butterflies and moths which have together gathered more than 23 million records. It is wonderful that so many people now want to record these important insects and share their data for conservation and research.

I am also immensely proud of my colleagues who have pioneered the landscape scale conservation for butterflies and moths, summarised in this wonderful report. These projects are finally beginning to improve the fortunes of many threatened species after decades of decline. We know what to do to save butterflies, we now need the resources to sustain this effort and extend it to more areas. For me, this is what it has all been about, getting improvements on the ground and saving threatened species from what looked like inevitable extinction.  

Over the years, BC has acquired some fabulous sites where butterflies and moths can thrive. In 2006 we bought Prees Heath in Shropshire, a remnant area of heathland. It is a microcosm of the problems we face. It was once an extensive area of heathland but during the 20th century it was dissected by roads, turned into a military airfield and training ground, and then largely ploughed up after the Second World War. All that remained was a narrow strip of run-way that could not be ploughed, surrounded by very intensive arable land. But this had become the last site of the rare and highly threatened Silver-studded Blue in the whole of the Midlands. We could not ignore it.  After a long and complex negotiation lasting over 10 years we bought the site and a chunk of arable land amounting to 60 ha. We then began the long laborious process of converting this intensive farmland back to heathland. This has been a superb success and it is wonderful to see the area now purple with heather and the Silver-studded Blue thriving once more, along with skylarks and a myriad of other plants and animals.

I will leave the charity in good hands. We have a thoroughly expert staff, both in the conservation field and the other vital fields of membership, fundraising, media and financial management. We have a network of 32 Branches who co-ordinate thousands of local volunteers who contribute the equivalent of £10m each year. We have a wonderful board of trustees who govern the organisation and make sure we stay on course. My main job now is to ensure a smooth handover to my successor later in the year so that all this good work carries on.

Although this will be a major change for me, I intend to remain active in the field of Lepidoptera conservation and will continue to be a strong champion of BC. I plan to continue doing some part-time work for BC Europe, an umbrella group that we set up in 2004 to co-ordinate effort across the continent. We now have partner organisations in over 35 countries and I hope to help realise the potential of this fantastic network of fellow enthusiasts. I also plan to conduct some research on European butterflies and hopefully spend a little more time in the field.

I wish everyone involved in Butterfly Conservation, and its many partner organisations, every success in the future. We live in very difficult and uncertain times but our work has never been more important: to ensure a brighter future for our wildlife and for the environment on which we all ultimately depend."