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Hilary Swain named 'Conservationist of the Year'

Highlands Today

Published:   |   Updated: August 12, 2013 at 09:09 AM

Archbold Expedition Executive Director Hilary Swain has been in the spotlight this year after being named "Conservationist of the Year" by the Florida Wildlife Federation on June 8 and being honored as one of WGCU's "MAKERS: Women Who Make Southwest Florida."

"This is not about me, it is about the work," said Swain. "I feel very fortunate to work for an organization that has all the fundamentals right."

Executive director at Archbold since 1995, Swain oversees all of the research, educational programs, conservation and land management projects at the facility's three properties: Archbold Biological Station, Archbold Reserve and the MacArthur Agro-Ecology Research Center (MAERC).

"Our overall goal is to conduct long-term ecological research, practice great conservation, and help educate people about the importance of this region," said Swain of the scrub habitat of the Lake Wales Ridge and the headwaters of the northern Everglades.

Swain is not only in charge of a staff of 50, up to 100 volunteers and hundreds of visiting scientists, she also serves on numerous statewide advisory boards, is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was the former president of the Organization of Biological Field Stations.

A governor's appointee to the state board for the Acquisition and Restoration Council, Swain makes recommendations on land purchases and has been involved in land management programs on a regional level. She also serves on the national board of Nature Serves.

"I'm someone who is very lucky to work at what I love," said Swain. "We live in one of the greatest conservation areas in the world . a place where there are so many plants, animals and ecosystems that are found nowhere else on the earth."

"Many Floridians have no idea what's going on in the heartland of the state," said Swain, who views her awards as an opportunity to raise public awareness of the importance of the Northern Everglades headwaters to South Florida's water supplies.

Swain was also selected by PBS's station WGCU to be included in "MAKERS: Women Who Make Southwest Florida," a series of video interviews that focus on influential women who have inspired people with their ground breaking work and made in difference in communities.

"The national PBS program is called MAKERS.WGCU decided to do the same program locally," said Swain, who found the honor bestowed on her at the Feb. 25 event in Ft. Myers "very personal."

A conservation biologist who earned her bachelor's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Newcastle, Swain has taken on many roles throughout her life. She has been a scientist, an educator, a wife, mother, a land manager and a conservationist.

Born in Scotland, Swain grew up in Northern England. She immigrated to the United States in 1985, where she married Geoff Swain, a professor of ocean engineering at Florida Tech in Melbourne.

Swain worked on the faculty in the biology department at Florida Tech before being recruited to run Archbold 18 years ago.

Swain said that living at the biological station, 100 feet from her office, has had its advantages. It gave her son, Nicholas, and daughter, Alexandra, the opportunity to grow up with a deep appreciation of nature and a unique understanding of science.

"I love working here because I work with really great people," said Swain. "It's a very stimulating place."

Named for its founder, Richard Archbold, Archbold Biological Station is a pristine ecosystem located on 5,192 acres of scrub lands, lakes, sand hills and flatwoods that Swain described as "a hidden gem" and "one of Florida's rarest habitats." Adjacent to the property is Archbold Reserve, another 3,648 acres of protected land.

"We are not a state park, we are not a zoo, and we are not state-owned," Swain said. The non-profit facility, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a dedicated and protected site that has been operating because of the generosity of private donors since 1941.

Located at 123 Main Drive in Venus, Archbold has seven trails open to the public, including a sign-guided walking tour called "Walk through Time," where visitors learn about the facility's history. MAERC is a 10,500 acre working cattle facility, Buck Island Ranch, that studies the importance of land management in sustaining the quality of Florida's water supplies, wildlife habitat and food production. For more information on the Archbold Expedition properties, tours, the lodge or the new learning center, call 863-465-2571, or visit

"In Florida, we will always be amazed at what we've managed to save. and I think we will always be appalled at what we have lost," said Swain. "But that gives us the impetus to keep working hard, to move us in the right direction."