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Gifted naturalist is awarded prestigious RSPB medal

23 August 2007

James Reynolds
Head of Media and Communications

Dr Jeff Watson, one of the UK's leading ornithologists and conservationists has been awarded the RSPB Medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to bird conservation.

The RSPB Medal is the Society's most prestigious award. It is presented to an individual in recognition of wild bird protection and countryside conservation. It is usually awarded annually to one or occasionally two people. Past winners include Sir David Attenborough, Professor Chris Baines, Robert Gilmor, Rt Hon John Gummer, Dr Colin Bibby and Bill Oddie.

Professor Ian Newton, Chairman of the RSPB's Council, said: 'It's been my pleasure to know and work with Jeff over the years and I am honoured to now present him with the RSPB Medal. Jeff's work is globally recognised, his specialist subject, the golden eagle and his workplace, the Highlands, by Scotland in particular.

'Jeff remains the accepted authority on this iconic species, but his life's work and encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife and conservation extend far beyond this. He has played a vital role in the complex statutory designations process throughout the Highlands, in the creation of the Cairngorms National Park, the protection of the Flow Country, and many other treasures of the nation's natural heritage'.

Professor Newton added 'Jeff Watson is a modest and charming man who carries my highest commendation for an exceptionally well deserved honour.'

Ian Jardine, Scottish Natural Heritage chief executive, said: 'On behalf of all my colleagues in SNH I am delighted to congratulate Jeff on this magnificent award. This is tremendous recognition of a unique contribution to nature conservation. Jeff has combined hands-on expertise in researching birds of prey with signal achievements as a public servant and his work on the iconic golden eagle is world renowned.

'Scotland's internationally important protected areas and recent nature conservation legislation have benefited directly from Jeff's outstanding work. We are extremely proud of Jeff, who will be characteristically modest about this special occasion.'


Pictures are available, showing Dr Jeff Watson being presented with the RSPB Medal by Professor Ian Newton.

Dr Jeff Watson is a highly gifted naturalist, who has established himself as the world's foremost authority on the golden eagle.  He has personal knowledge of the great majority of golden eagle nest territories in Scotland, and has visited other parts of its world range to advise on conservation and management issues.  Jeff is highly unusual in combining this expertise with a challenging role as Director of Operations (North) in Scottish Natural Heritage.

Raised in rural Galloway, southwest Scotland, his interest in birds was inspired by his father, bird artist and ornithologist Donald Watson.  He took a degree in zoology at Aberdeen University, graduating in 1974.  Moving to the Seychelles, he  spent four years researching the endemic Seychelles Kestrel, for which he was awarded a doctorate by Aberdeen University.  Following this, he worked for the WWF on the conservation of various endangered land birds in the Seychelles; research he has continued through field visits and active collaboration.

On return from the Seychelles he worked for a short time with the Scottish Wildlife Trust before joining the Nature Conservancy Council to lead a major research project on land use change and impacts on golden eagles.  This became a pioneering study of golden eagles in nine ecological regions, which set the highest of standards for understanding the effects of grazing, persecution, afforestation and disturbance on raptors.

Jeff's work on golden eagles was published in scientific papers and in The Golden Eagle (1997), published by Poyser/Academic Press.  This masterpiece of a book was the first monograph to be published in large format in the prestigious Poyser series, and has been lauded throughout the world (it was awarded the Birdwatching Magazine Prize for monograph of the year). The book has virtually sold out, and a second edition is in preparation; such is the international interest in the book that a Japanese edition was published earlier this year.  Jeff's research has spawned a rich seam of research papers on the conservation and population ecology of the birds (including DNA fingerprinting of much of the breeding population), and a conservation framework for the species which is attracting international interest.

Whilst engaged in this research, Jeff has, since April 1997, served as a Director on the Management Team of Scottish Natural Heritage.  He has had lead responsibility for the Natura programme (the designation, conservation and management of Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation), the National Nature Reserve series, and the Site Condition Monitoring Programme.  The recent tranches of SPAs classified for raptors in Scotland are an especially fine legacy for which Jeff must take particular credit, as was the designation of the Flow Country SPA/SAC as a NNR on Friday last week.

Jeff represents the UK as a Council Member of Eurosite, and is a Trustee of the Biodiversity Network.  He is an outstanding photographer, and latterly his landscape pictures have been compared favourably with the brilliant hill and raptor paintings by his father.

As a distinguished naturalist and senior official in a Government Conservation Agency, Jeff follows in the footsteps of his mentors, Dr Derek Ratcliffe and Professor Ian Newton FRS.  He is modest, courteous and kind to up and coming raptor enthusiasts; he is passionate about nature conservation; and has a track record of achievement in conservation and research combined which is exceptional.  Jeff lives on the Black Isle near Inverness with his wife Vanessa and son Ronan.

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