Stephanie Hilborne, OBE

Doctor of Science

Tuesday 21 July 2015 at 1.30pm - Orator: Professor Jane Memmott

Madam Chancellor

An honorary degree is conferred on distinguished individuals who merit special recognition for outstanding achievement and distinction in a field or activity consonant with the mission of the University. I would like to offer you some comments about Stephanie Hilborne, to demonstrate why I feel she is a perfect recipient for this award.

Stephanie is the Executive Director of The Wildlife Trusts, leading the 47 local Wildlife Trusts, which together employ more than 2,000 staff, manage 2,300 wildlife reserves, have 35,000 volunteers and over 800,000 members. There will be a Wildlife Trust local to each of you in the audience today and together the Wildlife Trusts are the largest voluntary organisation in the UK dedicated to protecting wildlife and wild places.

More than seven million people visit the nature reserves that Stephanie’s organisation manage, and The Wildlife Trusts are there to help people from all walks of life and all ages discover and enjoy nature – as well as to campaign for wildlife at both a local and a national level. It is a fantastic organisation, but it is also a considerable challenge to manage 47 separate sub-organisations and to get them to provide the same level of excellent service and a coherent look and feel. This is a job which Stephanie manages with brio and flair.  

Looking back at her career, her interest in conservation started young. By the age of 12, Stephanie was passionate about conservation after seeing the construction of major roads cut through some of her favourite childhood haunts. She studied here at Bristol, graduating in 1990 with a first class degree in Biology, going on afterwards to study for a Masters in Conservation at University College London. So just 25 years ago, she was graduating from Bristol, just like all the students sat here today.

Her first major conservation job was facilitating the national coalition of environmental organisations, the Wildlife and Countryside Link. And partnership working remains something she is a great believer in. Her first job with the Wildlife Trusts was with the Nottingham Wildlife Trust, and she quickly rose through the ranks to become Chief Executive in 2000.

In 2004, she was appointed as the Chief Executive of the collective of the 47 Wildlife Trusts – she was young when she became CEO – but it was the right choice for the organisation as she brought drive, energy, confidence and diplomacy. Along with a real understanding of how you get people to work together.    

In December 2009, Stephanie was awarded an OBE for services to nature conservation.  

These services included being a key panel member for the Making Space for Nature report, leading the call for a Marine and Coastal Act 2009, setting the vision and now leading on the call for the Nature and Wellbeing Act. Indeed, she is as comfortable working with government ministers as she is with activists.

Stephanie is an inspiring and cohesive force for The Wildlife Trust. Her leadership style is, calm and collaborative and she inspires and drives change through working in partnership with others. She is regularly sought out as a national speaker, and her passion always shines through, inspiring audiences about the need to take action for the natural world.

I heard her speak on a panel about conservation here in Bristol a couple of months ago, and I brought my whole research group down to listen to the debate. It was an excellent and instructive evening. The event was part of the Bristol Green Capital series; Bristol being the first UK Green Capital is one of many reasons why Bristol is one of the best places in the world to study and to live.

To give you an idea of the esteem in which she is held by her colleagues, here are some of their thoughts:

‘Steph is great to work with. She believes in developing talent across the movement and really supports the other female CEOs. Her leadership style has inspired my own and I've also been proud to represent The Wildlife Trusts in policy discussions with government as well as in giving public presentations, at Steph's request. Her confidence in me and others is a key part of our strength and unity as a movement.’ CEO of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

‘Steph sets a high standard in all aspects of her leadership role. She inspires others to give 110% and is quick to spot and encourage anyone she identifies who has skills, experience or leadership potential. Her style is inclusive, dynamic, challenging when necessary, but totally lacking in airs and graces. More than anything her unfailing sense of humour, even in the darkest hours, make her a superb role model for aspiring men and women in the sector.’ CEO of Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust.

‘If you scratch her she has the Wildlife Trust movement written all the way through her. It's an incredibly difficult job to brigade all 40-something Trusts to deliver a consistent message to Government, and present a united front - and she works incredibly hard to create a successful movement. Without her persistence, hard work, charm and vision, things could easily unravel.’ Professor Sir John Lawton, retired head of National Environmental Research Council.

And finally:

‘Steph, through her determination and leadership, has driven The Wildlife Trusts profile and influence to new levels of exposure which have gained the movement great credence and respect particularly within government at Westminster. She's unified local Wildlife Trusts into a federal movement with a shared vision, common purpose and collective aspirations for the future.  Her leadership has given 'nature' a chance of recovery across the UK.’ CEO, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust.

In summary, Stephanie Hilborne is without doubt a truly distinguished individual who merits special recognition for outstanding achievement and distinction in her field. It is a field close to my heart as a fellow ecologist, and it is a field which affects every single one of you here today. The natural world provides us all with food, materials for our homes, jobs, great beauty and great joy. Having Stephanie Hilborne at the helm of the Wildlife Trusts makes the natural world a better place for both wildlife and for people.

Madam Chancellor, I present to you Stephanie Hilborne as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.

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