Martin Spray - "I am totally convinced about the need to invest in the education of younger generations"

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Mar 21, 2017
by Andrea Abellan
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Martin Spray - "I am totally convinced about the need to invest in the education of younger generations"

Fellow discusses Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and success of "Inspiring Generations" program Martin Spray, chief executive at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) [Photo: Ela Grieshaber]

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) stands for the protection of wetlands and nature areas with a growing focus on urban environments. Its chief executive, Martin Spray, runs the rule over nine wetland parks which cover some of the UK’s most diverse wilderness. He sat down with Salzburg Global’s Andrea Abellán while attending The Child in the City: Health, Parks, and Play, and discussed how he hopes to connect peopleto nature.

Martin Spray took over the work of the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust’s founder, Sir Peter Scott, in 1991. He pushed forward Scott’s “visionary ideas” to make them a reality. The painting, representing the founder’s “last great vision,” currently resides in Mr. Spray’s office and continues to inspire his work within the organization.

Before passing away, Scott illustrated his plans to build a wetland park in the heart of London. With more than 250,000 visitors a year, the London Wetland Centre has since become a reality. The Centre attracts visitors from all over the world, and imitations of its design are visible in countries such as China and Dubai.

Spray considers increasing the organization’s reach and influence his biggest success. He says, “I am especially proud of having helped to take the ideas of an incredible founder to a 21st-century context.” Mr. Spray highlights the role played by the big, diverse team working to make the WWT projects function. Professionals from a wide range of sectors – from researchers to marketing specialists – have joined forces to make natural areas attractive for civil society.

London’s Wetland Centre has a playground and educational materials where children can learn about more than 200 bird species visiting the site. It also has a cafe, a shop, and comfortable seating areas with panoramic views. Everything is planned to make a visitor’s experience enjoyable. Spray explains, “It’s all addressed to connect people to nature.”

Apart from work in its wetlands centre, the WWT takes an active role in training projects, restoring wetlands, and water management-related initiatives. These efforts include working with sustainable drainage systems and natural water-treatment systems. It also runs the “Inspiring Generations” project, which enables around 60,000 students – most of whom from deprived areas – to visit Wetland Centres each year.

The program, funded by the bank, HSBC, educates both teachers and children by enhancing their environmental awareness. Spray confesses the project is something very close to his heart. He says, “I am totally convinced about the need to invest in the education of younger generations. They are who are going to take decisions in the future and who will takethe world forward. This [idea] is the main focus of the Inspiring Generations program and also the main reason why I’m in this seminar.”

Spray became interested in nature at a very young age. Supporting his passion, his parents quickly became used to seeing him running after lizards, butterflies, and any other animal which crossed his path. After spending almost the first half of his career in the government sector, where he learned “a lot about management skills,” Spray spent several years working as a volunteer for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

From this volunteer work, he was offered a full-time position, which opened the doors to a career in the environmental sector. In 2013, his work regarding nature conservation was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II, who awarded Spray a C.B.E, “Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.”

In 2015, Mr. Spray took part in the inaugural session of the Parks for the Planet Forum, titled Nature, Health, and New Urban Generation. Spray says this program has had a lasting impact on his thinking. He says, “Meeting other Fellows made me realize that there were people all over the world facing similar issues and using the same language to talk about them.”

This session became a source of inspiration that led to a switch in his organization from a pure conservation perspective to a more people-centered one.He hopes this year’s session will help him go back home with renewed energy once again.

Spray defines himself as a positive thinker and believes citizens can be persuaded to develop more conscious and sustainable attitudes. He believes the focus should be on finding the best ways to inspire them. He has observed a growth in environmental awareness among people over the last decades, but he recognizes the “battle has not been won yet.”

Spray says there is a lot of work to do to create healthier environments and provide better access to public spaces. While Scott’s “last great vision” may have been achieved, Spray’s work has only just begun.

Read more here in our session newsletter.

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The Salzburg Global program The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play is part of the multi-year Parks for the Planet Forum, a series held in partnership with the IUCN and Huffington Foundation. The session is being supported by Parks Canada and Korea National Park. It is being sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/574 - You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSparks

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