Last week there were two powerful reminders of the frontline role of conservationists in today’s troubled world.

First, the ever-more remarkable Whitley Awards, which I was lucky enough to attend on May 1st. 6 winners (from Guyana, Papua New Guinea, Bhutan, Cameroon, Nepal and Brazil), taking on complex, often controversial conservation work to protect endangered species.

What spoke to me most powerfully was the degree to which local communities are at the very heart of all these projects – not tokenistically (as with so many projects driven by big Western NGOs), but completely embedded, participating directly and often taking the lead.  The two of the most inspiring projects (in Guyana and Brazil) are driven by the wisdom and involvement of indigenous people; women play a crucial role in almost all of the winning schemes.

Including the final award winner (the Gold Award) for Purnima Devi Barman, whose work in the state of Assam in north India to protect the Greater Adjutant Stork (the “hargila” in the local language) has doubled its numbers from just 750 (heading towards extinction) to more than 1,800.

In the process, she recruited 10,000 women (in the Hargila Army) to spread the word, protect nests and chicks, increase nesting habitat and so on. If this story doesn’t make you well up, then your heart is more hardened than it should be!

Second May 3rd was designated as World Press Freedom Day – reminded governments and their citizens that without a free press or our democracies are at risk.
Journalists on the front line of environmental conflict are particularly at risk, all around the world, especially in South America. The statistics are grim. According to a new report from UNESCO, at least 749 journalists have faced violence and intimidation over the last 15 years – and 44 reporters were murdered during that time and the consequences of this are clear:

without reliable scientific information about the ongoing environmental crisis, we can never hope to overcome it.  Yet the journalists we rely on to ensure such information is accessible face unacceptably high risks all over the world”. (Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO director general).


#WhitleyAwards #SharedFuture