Vale Martin Copley AM, 1940-2014
On 30 July 2014, Australia lost one of its great conservationists and philanthropists when Martin Copley AM passed away.
Martin was born in Britain and he became a successful insurance underwriter. He first visited Australia in 1966. In 1991 he purchased a property containing a large area of natural bushland at Chidlow, Western Australia, now the Karakamia Sanctuary, for conservation purposes, effectively founding what was to become the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). In 1994 he moved to Australia permanently. Martin is survived by his partner Valentine, three children and six grandchildren.
“Our wild world is disappearing in numerous ways: loss of species, habitat destruction, declining water and air quality, and increasingly saline and shallow topsoils“, he said. The Gouldian finch, once widespread across northern Australia – could be the symbol of a continent in danger. Most Australians will never get to see the Gouldian finch, except perhaps in a cage. It’s estimated there are only hundreds remaining in the wild.
Martin will be remembered as one of Australia’s greatest conservationists and philanthropists. It is impossible to adequately describe the extent of Martin’s immense contribution to conservation.
Even in the early 1990s,Martin had a vision of a new, non-profit model for conservation– a model that could help lead the way in reversing Australia’s extinction crisis. Martin established Karakamia – AWC’s first sanctuary – in the Perth Hills. Even then, Martin had a vision of a new, non-profit model for conservation– a model that could help lead the way in reversing Australia’s extinction crisis.
Among his many extraordinary achievements, perhaps Martin’s greatest legacy – his greatest gift to the Woylies, Gouldian Finches and Bilbies – is his success over the last two decades in realising that vision.
Copley was thrilled to observe small creatures with alien names such as woylie, numbat and quokka slowly reappearing on the landscape. So much of Australia is tragically lacking these oddly named creatures, he says. “I always feel these places are alive, yet when you go into a national park, it often seems dead – a few birds and kangaroos but not the diversity.”
AWC has grown to 23 properties covering 3 million hectares across Australia. These properties protect 83% of Australia’s terrestrial bird species and 67% of its terrestrial mammal species including some of the largest remaining populations of threatened species such as the Bilby, Sharman’s Rock-wallaby and the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren.
Mr Copley’s environmental legacy is the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, which now watches over more than three million hectares of land. Mr Copley, 74, showed by example that eliminating feral cats and foxes allowed animals such as woylies and bandicoots to play their role in managing the landscape. Martin’s fencing-off of huge areas of bush has shown how healthy Australian ecosystems can function. The native animals become the cultivators and tillers of soil, dramatically reducing leaf litter build-up, which helps change the fire regime and ecological structure of an area.
Martin Copley has done more than anyone to safeguard Australia’s biodiversity and endangered species. According to Tim Flannery, Copley is “an absolute standout” who has made “an extraordinary contribution” in his field.
April 2015: Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is pleased to report that the wild Bilby population at Scotia is now estimated to be more than 1,200 animals. Together with a second population at Yookamurra, AWC protects approximately 15% of the entire Bilby population (estimated at less than 10,000 animals across Australia). Sadly, the Bilby population across the rest of Australia is in a state of ongoing decline, primarily as a result of feral cats and foxes. The last wild Bilby population in Queensland is now estimated at only 200 animals after a catastrophic decline driven by feral cats.
The Easter Bilby is an Australian symbol of Easter, to replace the Easter Bunny. Very young children are indoctrinated with the concept that bunnies are nice soft fluffy creatures whereas in reality they are Australia’s greatest environmental feral pest and cause enormous damage to the arid zone.
Australian Wildlife Conservacy
Subiaco East WA 6008
Ph: +61 8 9380 9633
Save the Bilby Fund
PO Box 260, Runaway Bay, Qld, 4216
Phone: 0405 384 351
Fax: (07) 5563 8612
The Australian Bilby Appreciation Society
(featured image: Bilby is from their website)