Prestigious Award for Committed Conservationist

Dr Don Cotton, one of IT Sligo’s most respected academics, has received national recognition for lifelong commitment to environmental conservation.

In a ceremony at the Royal Irish Academy, he was presented with the Distinguished Recorder Award 2012 of the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

One of Ireland’s the best-known figures in Environmental Science; he was given the award for assiduous recording of key aspects of biological diversity, particularly in Sligo-Leitrim.

His compilation of extensive databases focussing on woodlice, harvest spiders, freshwater invertebrates, earthworms, butterflies, moths, bees, flowers, birds and mammals represents an unrivalled record of environmental impact over the past 35 years.

“Species are nothing without their habitat,” Don says, “and so the efforts of conservation should be to protect habitat such as the wetlands that our birds and insects depend upon.”

The retired Senior Lecturer reckons he has spent about an hour every day since 1994 compiling a database with 150,000 records of species. He is currently data basing and analysing 2,400 publications dating from 1850 in a project that will eventually contribute to a unique “computer book” about the natural history of Sligo-Leitrim.

The initial phase of the venture is already being realized in ‘Natural History of Sligo and Leitrim’ at the following link (

Don came to Ireland from the UK in 1976 to do post-doctoral research at UCD into the impact of new agricultural practices on soil invertebrate ecology. He moved to Sligo in 1981 to lecture in Ecology and Geology at the then Regional Technical College.

“Anything to do with the environment and wildlife, I threw myself into it, and one of those things was the collection of data.”

He was prominent in the development of Environmental Science, playing a key role with a small group of visionary academics who developed the original BSc (Hons) in Environmental Science & Technology at IT Sligo.

Major recording initiatives he has been involved in include: the Winter Atlas of Birds 1981-1984; Winter Wetlands Survey 1984-1987; Dragonfly Survey; Chough Survey; Whooper swan survey and Barnacle goose survey.

He helped establish a BirdWatch Ireland branch in Sligo, has advised the County Council and is a founder and former chairman of the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group. He is a member of the Wildlife Committee of the National Heritage Council; the Praeger Committee (RIA)) and Sligo Heritage Forum. He is Botanical Society of British Isles County Recorder for Sligo and assistant editor of the Irish Naturalists’ Journal.

He sees greater need than ever for record-keeping and for conservationists to be advocates for the environment. “People are doing damage but they don’t see it as damage.  Often they do it because they believe they are passing on better land or creating greater opportunities for future generations. But it is not as simple as that.

“I have spent about 35 years collecting information and trying to get it used for the protection of the environment, which in turn stimulates eco-tourism in Sligo through walking-guides and nature trails. And I’m glad to say that I’m still at it.”

IT Sligo was the first third level institution in the country to offer environmental courses in Ireland almost 40 years ago and remains a leader in the field today. To learn more see

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