Imperial pays tribute to eminent ecologist Georgina Mace


Georgina Mace

Georgina Mace, former director of Imperial’s NERC Centre for Population Biology, passed away on 19 September 2020.

Georgina Mace was Professor of Conservation Science and Director of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Population Biology at Imperial’s Silwood Park campus from 2006-2012.

After leaving Silwood in 2012, she went on to become the President of the British Ecological Society and Director of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at UCL, and was made a Dame in 2016 for her services to science.

Her enormous contributions to the Centre and the discipline of ecology, as well as her support of colleagues, is fondly remembered by members of the Imperial community.

Professor Guy Woodward, Deputy Head of Life Sciences (Silwood Park)

Georgina was an incredibly gifted and prolific scientist, and she was a trailblazer in ecology and conservation for many decades. Beyond her transformative impact on science and academia in general, she also had a huge influence on environmental policy and how our research is translated in the real world. She shaped much of both the IUCN Red List and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, two cornerstones of modern ecology and conservation.

Her professional achievements were hugely impressive by any standard and she was also an exceptional person on so many other levels.

She was always a pleasure to work with and extremely supportive of others, particularly taking a keen interest in guiding the more junior staff and students as they set out on their own careers. Georgina will be sorely missed.

Professor Vincent Savolainen

Georgina was one of the most prominent ecologists and conservation biologists of all time, and she was also a fantastic colleague. She was extremely busy with her work, but she always said yes when needed to help others.

I remember working with her at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and then at Silwood Park where we both moved: it was always so productive and uplifting talking to her. As I took on Deputy Head of Department duties, and even though she had left College and moved to UCL, Georgina was, again, still so helpful to us on so many occasions. She was our role model; she will be dearly missed.

Professor Timothy Barraclough

Georgina Mace spent a relatively short but influential part of her distinguished career at Imperial College London, as director of the NERC Centre for Population Biology (CPB) from 2006 to 2012. Following previous directors John Lawton and Charles Godfray, hard acts to follow, she brought her own unique style to the Centre, which continued to thrive in its final years. The CPB retained its high-profile connecting population biology with global problems during this last spell of funding, and through Georgina’s far-sighted and generous leadership it built many important programmes of research that continue to this day.

Georgina was a good person who transformed her field, and whose influence will continue for many decades to come.

The young researchers who Georgina fostered at the CPB continue to deliver the science needed to guide biodiversity and ecosystems, and will carry forward her legacy in the coming critical decades for the natural world.

Georgina brought a rare combination of scientific originality, breadth and analytical rigour with a pragmatic approach to solving environmental challenges, perhaps most famously in her creation of the modern Red List. This translated concrete ecological theory into a rigorous classification of extinction risk for real-world scenarios in which detailed data are usually lacking, getting right to the heart of the problem and solution.

She virtually invented the modern science of conservation and its expansion into ecosystems and policy. She contributed to an astounding range of scientific projects, global committees, and leadership roles, yet in consistently good spirit and with time for everyone. She was a peerless active mentor for so many people, irrespective of their institution or discipline, it is hard to understand how she found the time.

Georgina was a good person who transformed her field, and whose influence will continue for many decades to come. Her true heart lay towards the other side of London, but Imperial was extremely lucky to host her for a few years and continues to benefit to this day. She will be greatly missed.

Professor Andy Purvis

Silwood Park in 2006 had an atmosphere of doom and gloom. Financial constrictions had imposed a hiring freeze, and the campus had just lost Charles Godfray to Oxford, along with several key researchers from the Centre for Population Biology. We urgently needed some good news, and Georgina Mace’s appointment to succeed Charles as head of the Centre for Population Biology (CPB) was brilliant news.

She was already famous for her work establishing the criteria used to assess species for the IUCN Red List of threatened species, and in leading the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment; she had also already led the Institute of Zoology through some tough transitions. And she transformed the CPB: she brought in a great cohort of promising postdocs, supported them as they spread their wings, and re-established workshops that gave enough space and time to develop and explore new research questions. Although NERC had already decided that the CPB would not be renewed, Georgina oversaw a brilliant late flowering, encouraging the postdocs to work together and to aim higher.

A group of people standing under a tree
Georgina Mace and colleagues at a CPB workshop in 2008. From left to right: Georgina Mace, Michael Donoghue, Andy Purvis, Rob Ewers, Sandra Diaz and Hans Cornelissen

Georgina was remarkably unselfish: despite how busy she was, she always somehow found the time for everyone, from project students through to professors. Fully committed to the importance of science, she always tried to make sure it was enjoyable and fulfilling for everyone. Georgina was so knowledgeable, thoughtful, insightful and funny that working with her was always energising, always an absolute joy. She was a brilliant role model and mentor to me – and to countless others; we’ll all miss her terribly.

Professor Rob Ewers

Georgina was a rare blend of professional academic: she was world famous and had a phenomenal impact on the discipline of conservation biology, yet remained approachable and genuinely interested in supporting the work of others.

She has been a role model to me for most of my career and was always generous with her time, support and advice. I can only aspire to match her professional record and the impact she has had on the careers of countless people inside and outside of academia.

Dr Will Pearse

When I was an MSc student, I ran a conservation news website ('Conservation Today') with the help of a friend (Felix Whitton) at Silwood. We organised an event in London ("The Open Ground") trying to bring conservation scientists (e.g., Armand Leroi at Imperial, Sam Turvey at ZSL, many others), artists (e.g., Ruth Padel, right in the middle of her poetry professorship scandal), practitioners (Durrell, Sea Shepherd), all those people together with the general public. 100 or more people came, and it was a huge success, but I never forgot that it was that success because of Georgina.

She was just the sort of person who helped because she knew she could, she recognised we were trying, and she knew she could help us.

We were basically one hundred pounds short of pulling it all off (for poster printing and advertising, which the venue required in exchange for letting us use it for free, I think) and without that money the whole thing was going to fold. I was devastated but then, one day, she just walked into my office and said "I heard you were doing a conservation event - would you like a bit of money from the CPB?". I was so happy I could have cried... She helped me at other points in my career afterwards, but this is the moment that will always stand out for me.

Georgina had absolutely no need to help us: it didn't give her anything, no one knew, and (frankly) no one beyond me and Felix cared about what we were doing. And who has time to care about two random MSc students who aren't your project students? But she was just the sort of person who helped because she knew she could, she recognised we were trying, and she knew she could help us. What has really struck me in the last few days is how many people she helped in exactly that way - Felix and I were not exceptions, we were the rule.

Alyssa Gilbert

Georgina was one of the first academics I met when I came to Imperial five and a half years ago to work at the science/policy interface. She was so welcoming, helping me ease into a job in an academic environment, whilst also contributing in concrete terms to the output of the Grantham Institute.

She stayed engaged, even after her departure to UCL and always responded when I reached out to her with requests, and was so modest that I did not realise her great scientific contributions until many years after I first met her.

I will remember her most for a long chat in the Paris Eurostar terminal, where I heard about her family, and for her kind and generous work in a fellowship appointment panel as recently as this summer.


If you would like to leave a memory about Georgina, please feel free to do so in the comments.


Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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