A brilliant microbiological technologist, an engaging speaker and author on the importance of preserving nature, a local environmentalist and a dancer. This is Stephen Partington.

Stephen took time out to share his thoughts and observations on conservation before heading out to review the Camosun Bog conservation project in Pacific Spirit Park. The driving rain was no deterrent to his desire to be out in nature.

At the age of three, Stephen remembers being fascinated by seeds that turned into radishes in his family’s tiny garden in Norwich, England. And, after moving to Toronto,  he and his siblings were eager to look through the microscope of his father, an MD PhD, who introduced him to a whole new world in the drops of swamp water collected during family adventures in High Park.

His childhood interest in nature led Stephen to studies in botanical taxonomy, phytochemistry, agriculture and plant pathology at UBC and a Master of Science in Microbiology and Immunology (Virology) at Queens University in Kingston. Stephen describes his career as a series of reinventions which has included developing healthcare diagnostic kits, pharmacokinetics, and marine drug discovery work.

At the age of six Stephen was enrolled in his first nature organization, the Junior Naturalists Club of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists where he began his lifetime to commitment to conservation organizations. Returning to Vancouver following his graduation from Queens University, Stephen joined the Vancouver Natural History Society (now Nature Vancouver) and served as co-chair of the Conservation Committee for five years during which time he also sat for a term as chair of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee. Stephen’s many leadership positions in conservation organizations are highlighted at the end of this article.

On Where We Fit Into Nature

Early on I came to the view that the earth, the universe and we are all one. And this was confirmed through my studies of chemistry, biology and people. We’re part of a much larger cosmos.

All we have is what we experience but we’re part of a collective experience in which no one thing is all that significant.

On The Nature Trust of BC

I was introduced to The Nature Trust of BC by renowned conservationists, Dr. Bert Brink and Dr. Dick Stace-Smith, both of whom I got to know through the UBC Department of Plant Science and the Vancouver Natural History Society. Bert was directly involved in the start of The Nature Trust along with Major General Bert Hoffmeister.

I’m also supportive of The Nature Trust’s co-management efforts in the ranching community. White Lake Basin, owned by The Nature Trust, is a brilliant example of biodiversity ranching. Protecting the Princeton grasslands is another excellent habitat conservation example.

Princeton Grasslands | photo by Graham Osborne

On Land Conservation Challenges

The Nature Trust of BC is a fabulous organization but their challenge is getting enough funding. It started as the National Second Century Fund with a gift of federal money but now there are so many competing asks within a finite pool.

The Nature Trust’s work in assessment of lands and regions in need of conservation is vital. They are a wonderful group of people whose decision making is based on both economic and scientific wisdom.

Large sums of money are required to do conservation in the areas where it is most needed and where it’s critical but that’s usually where people want to live. Buying private land means competing with the real estate market. The urban industrial pressure is huge. There’s continuous encroachment. And it’s an emotionally charged subject because people also need someplace to live.

Waterways and estuaries are also prime places for industrial activities which are a threat to those habitats.

Stewardship of the land – land management –  is also a challenge. Just because you own the land doesn’t mean it won’t be impacted by people directly or indirectly.

At the same time, these can be places where young people can get educated, where people can be deployed through volunteering activities that make them feel good and connected; raising the consciousness of society of these needs.

On His Conservation Mentors

Dr. Bert Brink and Dr. Richard (Dick) Stace-Smith were compelling forces in my development in the conservation community. They were both in the B.C. Federation of Naturalists and Dr. Stace-Smith was one of my professors at UBC. He was a prominent conservationist and leader in the protection of biodiversity and conserving the environment for future generations.

Black bears | photo by Norm Stack

On Conservation Education

The future is real. It’s not going away. People can direct what happens in the future by how they channel their resources today. I believe that people want to give; but they just may not know how or they may have a healthy skepticism. They need to know their hard earned money is going to a well-managed organization.

I love to engage people in the experience of nature and I especially delight working with little kids. Childhood is an age of discovery. I like to get down to their level and say, “Wow, look at that!”

On Giving to Support Conservation

I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a really good life and some successes. Now I have the opportunity to give back and that’s what I’ve done and will continue to do.

One thing that is wonderful about donating within one’s lifetime is that you have the knowledge of giving back, the recognition of what you’ve done and the satisfaction of seeing the result. It’s a way of doing something really positive. For me, that can’t be beat.

On His Favourite Places to Visit in Nature

I’ve loved the Selkirk Mountain Experience northeast of Revelstoke from my very first visit. It’s helicopter access only but it takes you right to the treeline. It’s a beautiful place that my partner and I have retreated to many times.

Stephen has received well-deserved recognition for his outstanding contributions to conservation.

He was awarded the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Commemorative Medal in recognition of his significant contributions to compatriots, community and to Canada and in the 1990s he received the Davidson Award for Conservation by the Vancouver Natural History Society. In 2020, he was also honoured by Nature Vancouver with the Kaye and Charles Ney Award, the premier award of the Society for lifetime exemplary service and dedication to the Society.

In addition to his many years as a member of Nature Vancouver and his role as co-chair of the Conservation Committee and chair of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee, Stephen is highly engaged in many other important conservation organizations. He was a three term Director of the Friends of Cypress Provincial Park, a two term Director of the Stanley Park Ecology Society and became a Life Member of the Wild Research and the BC Waterfowl Society. Recently Stephen was elected President of the BC Naturalists’ Foundation and has expanded his ongoing strategic contributions to select individuals and organizations including The Nature Trust of British Columbia.

As for Stephen the dancer, this writer can attest to witnessing his joyful talent in a class we once shared.