He was educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, London, Edinburgh and Oxford Universities. At London University he read zoology and social anthropology and published his first scientific paper in Nature in 1969 while an undergraduate.
After working for Shell Research International for a short time he took a Ph.D. in ecology in the Forestry and Natural Resources Department at Edinburgh University on an FCO/ODA Scholarship. He was then employed as a research and management biologist in the Kafue National Park, Zambia helping to write the management plan.
In 1974 he joined Oxford University Zoology Department for five years funded by NERC and the Royal Society to work on the giant tortoises of Aldabra Atoll, Western Indian Ocean.
He is a former Visiting Professor at the Universities of Michigan, Florence, Auckland, and Manchester Metropolitan. As the first Chair in Conservation Biology in the U.K. (now Emeritus), he was a draftsman of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). He has worked as a mathematician for Shell and as a biologist at Oxford, Edinburgh and with the Royal Society.
In 1989 he founded the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), at the University of Kent. He produced the curriculum, wrote the content based on his own experience in the field, and raised the considerable funding required. DICE is now a world leader in the field of conservation biology teaching new generations of conservation scientists from around the world. As Director of DICE, he supervised work in 42 countries and trained over 400 conservation biologists from 48 countries in biodiversity management, sustainable development, and the commercialisation of biodiversity assets.
He is the founder of The Herpetological Conservation Trust, an international non-governmental organisation with substantial assets; and of “Biodiversity and Conservation”, the world’s first multidisciplinary journal in biodiversity management and sustainable development.
He is a Trustee of Earthwatch and many other trusts with interests in global conservation and development. The Secretary of State DEFRA appointed him to the Darwin Initiative, which funds multisectoral projects in biodiversity management, and the Chairmanship of a Research Council.
More recently he was appointed by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth and the President of Guyana to be Chairman of the International Board of Trustees, Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, the largest biodiversity project belonging to the Commonwealth. Nine months after appointment he turned it from certain bankruptcy to increasing self-sufficiency.
A leading authority on commercialising biodiversity assets and the conservation of protected areas, Professor Swingland is an advisor on conservation and bio-diversity management to the World Bank,
the Global Environment Facility, the Asian Development Bank, and the U.K. Government, and has obtained funding for projects in Bangladesh, Swaziland, Peru and Indonesia as well 23 other countries, including the largest single biodiversity project in the world; the Sundarban Biodiversity Conservation project in Bangladesh.
His current involvement in China, where he co-wrote the Country Programming Framework which will reduce land degradation, get 25m a year out of agriculture, create alternative livelihoods, and conserve biodiversity using a market, not donation, approach. The PRC, ADB, WB, and GEF have put $1.5bn behind the new approach which is beginning to work in Ningxia followed by Shaanxi near Xi’an.
He also advises major corporations on environmental policy. He is a Director or non-Executive Director of 3 companies concerned with the environment.
He is a married to a former dentist with a son 31 and daughter 29 and lives in deepest Kent.