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Professor Mike Bruford


With great sadness and loss, Cardiff University marks the passing of a world-leading conservationist and its first Dean for Environmental Sustainability – Prof Mike Bruford.

Mike died on Thursday 13th April 2023 having dedicated his career to understanding and halting biodiversity loss. He pioneered the application of conservation genetics to inform and inspire real-world actions to support the protection of endangered species. He served as an ambassador for the animals he studied, developing trust and commanding respect with governments and researchers across the globe to invoke sustainable change. Although determined and driven, Mike’s accessible style meant that he communicated complex scientific information in a manner that was also persuasive and compelling, providing solutions even in extremely challenging situations. When asked, following a talk in 2022, “Can we afford to make all these changes to protect biodiversity?” his response was simple: “We cannot afford not to”.

Born in South Wales (6 June 1963), Mike chose to return to Cardiff in 1999 as a Reader in the School of Biosciences and as Professor from 2001. This was after completing his degrees in Portsmouth and Leicester and deciding not to pursue a career in a rock band! His PhD, supervised by Prof Terry Burke, examined “Hypervariable markers in the chicken genome” and became instrumental in propelling a career that saw extensive use of genetic markers to assess biodiversity loss and its consequences. In 1990, Mike joined the Zoological Society of London's conservation genetics group initially as a research associate, but from 1994 leading the group, and it was here that his international career expanded in leaps and bounds, and where he developed his lifelong love of Africa. Through his editorial work in scientific journals, his extensive contribution/chairmanship of international working groups and his supervision of over 70 PhD students and postdocs, he never stopped promoting conservation genetics.

In the School of Biosciences, Mike laid the foundations for the Organisms and Environment Division (initially called the Biodiversity and Ecological Processes Group), which he led tirelessly for 17 years, leading by example and picking up all the last-minute jobs whenever needed. That old adage “If you want something doing, ask a busy person” could not be more apt in Mike’s case and more so he was enthusiastic about supporting new initiatives and giving praise when praise was due. Importantly, you could confide with and in Mike – if confidentiality was needed, he was as impervious as a bank vault. His humbleness also made an indelible impression on us: Mike cared about everyone whoever they were – people (and football) were important to him. Simultaneously, his commitment to invoking change led him to take up the position of Dean of Sustainability for Cardiff University whilst academically, his many achievements, included establishing the IUCN Conservation Genetics Specialist Group, heavy involvement in Darwin Initiative and EU Biodiversity frameworks, and the FrozenArk - a biobank to fuel future conservation genetics. Externally, his work was recognised through multiple awards including the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society of London (2003), the ZSL Marsh Award for Conservation Biology (2020), a Fellowship of The Learned Society of Wales (2010), a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2012-2016), election to the Academia Europaea (2020) and appointment as an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria (2021). Mike was a rare individual who delivered multiple impact cases to the 2014 and 2021 Research Excellence Frameworks reflecting the stellar national and international status of his research. At the time of his passing, his work has been cited almost 34,000 times by other scholars and practitioners.

Mike acted as a beacon for others to follow in demonstrating the art of the possible. He was a collegiate, a mentor and an inspiration to many. He shaped the careers and aspirations of so many globally, establishing ‘academic celebrity status’ but always retaining his warmth, humour and wryness of character. We hope in years to come the knowledge that Mike was loved and respected by so many will bring comfort to Claire, Rhys, Erin and his wider family, as he said so many times himself “I couldn’t do it without them”.

Jo Cable, Benoit Goossens and Steve Ormerod on behalf of the Organisms and Environment Division, Cardiff School of Biosciences