• Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

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High-flying conservationists win top national awards

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The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) celebrated the outstanding work of conservation scientists and volunteers in an annual awards ceremony held last night at the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) Natural Eye exhibition at London’s Mall Galleries.

The BTO Jubilee Medal went to Simon Taylor, BTO Regional Rep for Cornwall. Since taking on the volunteer role in 2017, Simon has helped to reverse Cornwall’s declining survey coverage and create a wide range of opportunities for engaging new volunteers, partly by recruiting an equally dedicated team that includes a number of Youth Reps. Although he has been in post for only a relatively short period of time, his work in Cornwall has been truly transformative.

The BTO Dilys Breese Medal was given to Kit Jewitt¸ whose work on two landmark BTO books has helped to raise the profile of Britain’s most threatened birds. He devised Red 67, the 2017 book that brought together writers and artists to contribute personal reflections on the 67 species of bird that then made up the UK Red List, raising more than £40,000 in the process. The sequel, Into the Red, was published earlier this month.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

The Marsh Award for Ornithology went to Dr Alex Bond¸ curator in charge of birds at the Natural History Museum, Tring. Alex’s work has focused on the threats posed by plastic and other types of pollution to seabird populations, particularly those on remote islands. As well as publishing widely on seabird conservation, he has also been a powerful advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion in ornithology and
science more broadly.

The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology was given to Rob Clements in recognition of his three decades as a volunteer monitoring some of Britain’s most elusive birds. He has frequently challenged accepted population estimates for hard-to-record species including Honey Buzzard, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker and Hawfinch, and, through detailed fieldwork, helped to improve them, developing a vital network of species experts along the way.

The Marsh Award for Local Ornithology went to Tracking the Impact, a scheme founded in 2020 to engage people living in the Chilterns with their local environment. It provides training on bird, butterfly and plant identification – as well as survey methodology – to members of the public, harnessing their knowledge and enthusiasm to improve scientific understanding of the area. The Chilterns Conservation Board led the project design, secured the funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and lead the delivery in partnership with BBOWT, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Environmental Records Centre, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The Marsh Award for Youth Ornithologist was awarded to 20-year-old biological sciences student Anna Webberley. She relaunched the Cardiff University Ornithological Society as a welcoming and diverse community after it was disbanded due to Covid-19 and, as the society’s president, has helped to promote citizen science surveys, organise trips to other parts of Wales and talks from leading conservationists – all while completing her degree and working to support her studies.

BTO Chief Executive, Professor Juliet Vickery, said: ‘It is a delight to celebrate the achievements of such an amazing group of people. I am often asked what gives me hope for the natural world. One answer, without doubt, is the drive and determination of people like these who refuse to accept the status quo and work to make a difference. The values our award winners represent are at the core of our special partnership between citizen scientists and professional staff, something that continues to inspire us as we approach our 90th anniversary year.’