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Source: University of Otago

Wednesday 30 September 2020 1:36pm
(From left) Ecology Programme Director Associate Professor Christoph Matthaei, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne, Emeritus Professor Colin Campbell-Hunt, Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark, Chancellor Dr Royden Somerville QC, Patricia, Lady Mark QSO
Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark and Patricia (Pat), Lady Mark QSO, have donated substantial gifts to the University of Otago Ecology Fund and Orokonui Ecosanctuary.
Sir Alan and Lady Patricia, two of New Zealand’s most respected and dedicated conservationists, have gifted $150,000 to the University’s Ecology Fund, and $100,000 to Orokonui Ecosanctuary.
Their lifelong contribution to the conservation and preservation of New Zealand’s natural habitats and wildlife is to be acknowledged and honoured at a function at the University today.
“Both of us came into university from working class families, interested in getting a good education, which at that time was basically free to those who put the effort in – only those who had to repeat a subject paid course fees,” says Sir Alan. Both were the first in their families to attend university.
“Today it’s a different story. The people who are disadvantaged or without substantial financial means I think have a much more difficult time getting to the University, so we have put some money into education for those of the disadvantaged group, which we ourselves were party to and got through at a time which was much easier than now.
“And I’ve got so much out of the University through ecology, and to me the field of ecology is absolutely fundamental to encourage in today’s world, that I felt that putting some funding into ecological projects and ecological activities was a worthwhile investment for the future.”
Sir Alan says Orokonui is an example of an organisation that is really making the effort to re-establish and maintain indigenous biodiversity and ecosystems. “We felt it worthwhile to put some funding in to assist it with its very worthwhile efforts in conservation, ecosystem restoration and maintaining indigenous biodiversity with some of our endangered species.”
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says the University is extremely grateful for the generous gift from the Marks.
“The University, and wider New Zealand, has for a long time benefitted greatly from the contribution made to society by Sir Alan and Lady Patricia. This wonderful gift to Ecology at Otago will continue their legacy by supporting a field that is integral to the protection of our environment and the well-being of future generations. It will also help ensure students have the means to support their research in this vital area.”
Sir Alan says he is grateful to have always had the backing of the University, especially at those times when he was not popular with sectors of the community for his stand on environmental issues. He thinks it is wonderful there is now an award publicly recognising the role of Critic and Conscience of Society.
“It’s not easy in that role. The amount of abuse you get can be quite considerable… the criticism from the powers that be, political lobbyists. From my point of view some high country run holders were onto me in a major way and to have the University stand up and defend you is so important and so reassuring, because you are vulnerable and to have that sort of support when it’s needed is so important to be able to maintain the role.”
Chair of the Otago Natural History Trust, the governing body of the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, and Otago Emeritus Professor, Colin Campbell-Hunt says the Orokonui Foundation was established to accumulate a capital fund big enough to ensure the long-term future of the sanctuary.
“This is needed because the ecology within the fence will literally take centuries to mature. The sanctuary will always be vulnerable to changes and threats of many types, so the reserves being built up within the Foundation will in time guarantee that Orokonui will continue to fulfil its mission many generations from now.”
Professor Campbell-Hunt says the Orokonui Ecosanctuary will be eternally grateful for the generous support given by Lady Patricia and Sir Alan.
“We also want to say thank you on behalf of the precious biota of New Zealand’s flora and fauna. Sir Alan and Lady Patricia have devoted much of their lives to defending the country’s threatened ecology from the predations of introduced species, humans included. Their support for Orokonui is just one of so many ways that New Zealand’s ecology will be the better for their devotion. Orokonui thanks you. New Zealand thanks you.”
Sir Alan and Lady Patricia met as first-year Botany and Zoology students at Otago in 1950, both having grown up in Dunedin. Lady Patricia graduated with a BSc in Botany and Geography and Sir Alan with a BSc in Zoology and Botany and an MSc in Botany. He then headed overseas to gain his PhD at Duke University in North Carolina, and Lady Patricia joined him after working at the Botany division of the DSIR library in Christchurch – one of many “book-lined” positions she has held over the years.
They got married on Roan Mountain, North Carolina, at “the highest farmhouse east of the Rockies”. On their return to New Zealand, Sir Alan worked initially for the Otago Catchment Board and then the Hellaby Indigenous Grassland Research Trust, researching the degradation of the high country, and how to manage it sustainably. He also took up a lectureship at Otago, beginning a long working association with the University.
“I put the degradation down to the method of farming that was being used; grazing right after burning and unsympathetic management. That was my finding, which didn’t endear me to some high country run holders who were very traditional. A couple of them wrote to the Vice-Chancellor (Sir Robin Irvine) and asked for me to be disestablished from the University for undermining their traditional way of farming, but the Vice-Chancellor was highly supportive of my position.”
In the decades since, both Sir Alan and Lady Patricia have been tireless advocates for the conservation and preservation of New Zealand’s natural habitats and wildlife. Sir Alan was prominent in the Save Manapouri campaign in the early 1970s, after he was contracted to do a lakeshore study in preparation for the raising of the lake to generate more power for the Bluff aluminium smelter. The results of the study showed the lakeshore was both highly vulnerable and diverse ecologically.
As National President of Forest and Bird from 1986–1990, he played a major role in securing the 2.6 million hectare South West New Zealand World Heritage Area: Te Wāhipounamu; and as National Parks and Reserves Authority member, and also with a comprehensive field study which he organised, he helped prevent the logging of the 45,000ha Waitutu Forest in western Southland, which has since been added to Fiordland National Park and the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area: Te Wāhipounamu.
Sir Alan was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1978. He was knighted in 2009 for his achievements in science-based conservation and received an honorary doctorate from Otago in 2014.
In terms of progress since the early days of his advocacy in conservation, he says “the most satisfying thing is the greater concern of the public with matters related to New Zealand’s unique biodiversity and ecosystems, and the importance of conserving them”.
Most recently he has chaired the Wise Response Society which lobbies for a sustainable future for the country, on the five platforms of global warming and climate disruption; ecological and environmental security; human well-being; economic security; and business continuity.
“The group is concerned with the importance of sustaining the environment and not over-capitalising and over-exploiting it to the detriment of the sustainable aspects of the system,” says Sir Alan.
“What COVID-19 has shown is that given a very serious situation the country can adapt and we’re trying to ensure that in the recovery from COVID-19 an opportunity is taken to recognise that pre-COVID we were operating in a non-sustainable growth system and hopefully we can mend our ways to reduce growth to the point where the systems that we depend on can be sustained in perpetuity.”
He is fearful of the sort of environment that will be left to his grandchildren and supports the Extinction Rebellion organisation and the school student’s march for climate action as important methods of demonstrating concern.
“That sort of civil unrest, civil disobedience is I think perhaps the best way. Trying to persuade the political process that they need to mend their ways has not really worked to date.”
Lady Patricia has been involved with many conservation committees and organisations over the years, including The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, the Otago Natural History Trust, and the Mt Aspiring National Park Board.
Professor Campbell-Hunt says “the Orokonui Ecosanctuary is primarily a community conservation project. Lady Patricia is one of a wonderful group of volunteers whose efforts make the sanctuary possible. Without the contributions of Lady Patricia (and scores more), the sanctuary simply could not have achieved what it has over the past decade.”
He says the “event of thanksgiving [at the University] is a very rare occasion where her contributions are celebrated and given public thanks.”
Lady Patricia is also a JP, and as well as putting her energies to their family of four children, her love of books saw her working at different times over the years at the University library. She was awarded a QSO for services to the community in 2000.
“I liked the active side of things, I always enjoyed the field trips for Botany,” says Lady Patricia, who joined the Otago Tramping Club while still at high school.
When Sir Alan went on sabbatical, the family always went too. “Which was unusual in those days,” she says. “There was no way I thought we should have children and not take them with us on these trips.”
With their children Jenifer, Stephen, Alastair and Bridget, their travels took them to many exciting places, including the Southern Appalachians, Edmonton, Chicago, Scotland’s Cairngorms, Wales’ Mt Snowdon, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Alaska, and other field sites.
“We were so privileged and lucky to be able to travel to places like the Galapagos, Cusco, Machu Picchu and Tierra del Fuego,” says Lady Patricia, who feels the increasing number of people visiting such places is changing the experience, and that it was a privilege to be able to appreciate the “loneliness and ability to get away from people”.
Of all the places they have been however, Fiordland remains their favourite. “Fiordland is amazing country. Norway is similar, but it doesn’t compare; Fiordland is unique,” says Sir Alan. The family has a cottage at Manapouri and together has tramped most of the tracks in the area.
Sir Alan and Lady Patricia say they decided to gift the money now rather than leave it as part of an estate in the hope that it will encourage others to do the same, and “hopefully we will see something of the benefits from it”.
Patricia, Lady Mark, and Sir Alan Mark, sitting under their painting of South Westland
For further information, contact:
Margie ClarkCommunications AdviserDevelopment and Alumni Relations OfficeUniversity of OtagoMob +64 21 279 4021Email