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Honorary doctorate for botany leader

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Friday 2 May 2014 9:16am

Sir Alan Mark
Sir Alan Mark

The University of Otago will this weekend confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Science on one of New Zealand’s leading plant ecologists and conservationists, Sir Alan Mark.

An Emeritus Professor in the University’s Department of Botany, Sir Alan has worked tirelessly over more than five decades to ensure that science closely informs conservation efforts in New Zealand and beyond.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says she is delighted that he is being recognised in this way.

"Sir Alan is an inspirational figure, not only at Otago but much further afield. He is an excellent example of an academic who is an effective critic and conscience of society – one whose standing is grounded in leading research and is expressed through service to the community.

"As well as producing many scientific achievements in his own right, he has also provided a lifetime of outstanding service in areas such as environmental education, conservation, resource management, and science communication and expert advice.”

Born in Dunedin Sir Alan was appointed Professor of Botany in 1975, having first joined the department in 1955.

His career features many highlights: he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1978 and awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Hutton Medal in 1997 for outstanding scientific research in recognition for his major contribution to the study of South Island vegetation. He also received the Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement in 2010.

As one of New Zealand’s leading plant ecologists Sir Alan has used that knowledge and background to bring a scientific approach to conservation. He was president of the Forest & Bird Protection Society (1987-1990) and for its first 26 years he was Chair of the Guardians of Lakes Manapouri, Monowai, and Te Anau.

In 2004 he received a life membership of the New Zealand Ecological Society and in 2009 Environment Southland’s Environmental Achiever’s award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network.

Sir Alan was also involved in Hellaby Indigenous Grasslands Research Trust and, until 2010, was chairman of its board of governors after having previously served as the inaugural research fellow, and later as the Turst’s research advisor. He is also a past member New Zealand National Parks and Reserves Authority, and the New Zealand Conservation Authority.

His achievements have also been recognised in the wider community through several Royal Honours which saw him made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1989, and a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit DCNZM in 2001. In 2009 he was made a Knight of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his science-based conservation work.

Over the years Sir Alan has also written several books about alpine plants. New Zealand Alpine Plants, which he co-authored with water colour artist the late Nancy Adams, and released in 1973, is considered something of a landmark publication, while Above the Treeline, published in 2012, describes and illustrates more than 850 species of flora and fauna, and is viewed as the first comprehensive field guide to New Zealand’s alpine environment.

Sir Alan will receive his honorary doctorate at the May 3 graduation ceremony.

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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