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The Friends of the Lake District - Cumbria's leading landscape conservation charity - has elected Sir Martin Holdgate, environmental scientist and international conservationist, as its new President. Martin Holdgate grew up in Blackpool but the Eden Valley was his childhood holiday home, and it was there that his love of nature and of the fells took root. A biologist by profession, with a Cambridge doctorate in insect physiology, his love of the outdoors drew him to ecology and his first scientific papers were about the vegetation around Sunbiggin Tarn on Orton Fells.
For ten years he alternated between teaching in English Universities - Manchester, Durham and Cambridge - and expeditions to the Tristan da Cunha islands in the South Atlantic, the remote south-west of Chile and the Antarctic, where he served as Chief Biologist of the British Antarctic Survey.
Back in England, he became the research director in the Nature Conservancy Council, the national agency responsible for wildlife conservation and predecessor of today's Natural England. Then, in 1970, a career switch took him into Whitehall to head a unit coordinating action against environmental pollution. During the following 18 years he became Chief Scientist and head of research in the Department of the Environment and the senior Civil Servant responsible for environment protection and conservation. At a time when environmental concern grew world-wide, Martin Holdgate was in the thick of it, as UK delegate to several international organizations including the United Nations Environment Programme whose Governing Council he chaired in the early 1980s.
In 1988 he left Whitehall to become Director General of IUCN - the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (sometimes called the World Conservation Union). This unique body brings together Governments, Government Agencies and Non-Governmental organizations. It produces the famous Red Lists of endangered species and the United Nations list of National Parks and Protected Areas. It also advises UNESCO on 'natural sites' put forward by Governments, as the Lake District may be, for the World Heritage List.
Martin Holdgate 'retired' and was knighted in 1994 but has since served as President of the Zoological Society of London and of the Freshwater Biological Association, a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, co-Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests and Secretary of the High-Level Board on Sustainable Development advising the UN Secretary General. He has lived in Cumbria since 2000 and has been an active member of the Friends of the Lake District Key Supporters' Group since then.Looking forward to the coming year, Sir Martin is clear that the charity faces major challenges. He said: "Last year Natural England made Designation Orders that would add some wonderful country between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales to the two National Parks. We have been waiting for this since 1946 when the importance of that countryside was recognised in the Hobhouse Report. Last year the Friends played an active part in a public inquiry on those extensions, and the report has been with the Secretary of State for six months. Please, Ms Truss, get on with it and confirm the National Park extensions!"
But that is not the only challenge ahead. Will the Lake District, a unique 'cultural landscape' whose stunning scenery and distinctive pattern of human settlements has inspired poets and artists for centuries, at last gain recognition as a World Heritage site? What does the future hold for the Cumbrian uplands, where traditional farming struggles yet plays an essential part in maintaining that traditional landscape? What can be done to ensure that new high voltage power lines that must be constructed to connect new power stations and wind farms in West Cumbria cause the least possible harm to the landscape and communities? These are all concerns facing Friends of the Lake District in the coming year.