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Stanley Johnson awarded RSPB medal

10 October 2015

Jessica Abbott
Assistant Investigations Officer

Stanley Johnson received the RSPB’s most prestigious award at the charity’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in London.

The journalist, author, environmentalist and former Conservative MEP was chosen to receive the RSPB Medal this year because of his role in the creation of one of the cornerstones of Europe's nature conservation policy – the Habitats Directive (1992). 

Together with the Birds Directive (1979), these pieces of legislation and their interpretation by the European Court of Justice have proven to be the strongest legal working tool to protect nature. 

For the past year, the European Commission has been consulting on whether to open up the two laws for review, meaning they are under threat of being weakened. Over 520,000 people from across Europe, including more than 100,000 from the UK, recently spoke up to save them in the European Commission's consultation - more than three times the highest number ever achieved before.  

Stanley Johnson expressed his great appreciation of the honour accorded to him in awarding him the RSPB medal. He said: "As an environmental campaigner, I have worked for many years with the RSPB, and in particular have welcomed their support during my Brussels years as we pushed for the adoption of EU-wide measures for nature protection, notably with the birds and habitats directives. 

"The development of NATURA 2000, Europe's nature protection network, is one of the EU's success stories. I applaud the efforts of the RSPB and the Europe-wide consortium of NGOs who are now more determined than ever to resist the current ill-conceived attempts to weaken or rewrite this vital EU legislation." 

Professor Steve Ormerod, RSPB Chairman, said: "We are thrilled to award the RSPB Medal to Stanley. We believe the wonderful contribution he has made to nature conservation over several decades deserves wider recognition. 

"In particular, Stanley’s role in conceiving, drafting, battling for and then shepherding through the legislation for the Habitats Directive, in the face of often fierce opposition, is one that should be admired and applauded. 

"Nature is all the better for that piece of regulation and it's so important its future is secured."

Previous RSPB Medal winners include HRH The Prince of Wales (2010), Sir David Attenborough (2000) and Bill Oddie (1997). 

In 2012 there was a very usual winner; the entire community of Tristan da Cunha were awarded the Medal for their efforts when the ship MS Oliva ran aground at Nightingale Island, 30km from Tristan da Cunha, spilling 1,500 tonnes of oil into the sea and threatening globally endangered species, including two-thirds of the world's population of rockhopper penguins.


1.       More about the RSPB’s campaign to defend nature here.

2.       Stanley Johnson was born and raised in the South West of England. His family have been farming on Exmoor since he was a child and he still manages the farm there today. He attended Exeter College, Oxford, before being awarded a Harkness Fellowship to the United States. After returning to the UK, he became the first ever Tory Environmental Research Officer in the early 1970s. Stanley regularly attended campaign meetings with Wildlife Link throughout the mid 80s, working closely with the RSPB on measures to improve the protection of species and habitats. He helped open doors for us, WWF and The Wildlife Trusts in his dogged and thoroughly charming style and frequently joined us in delegations to meet DOE Ministers. His insights on how the EU Commission made policy – and how we could use Europe to advance our cause in the UK, and the causes of our BirdLife partners elsewhere in Europe – were quite invaluable. Stanley was always generous with his time, engaged with everyone – not standing on ceremony – and brought passion and insight into everything he did. Stanley was elected as an MEP for the Conservatives in 1979 and he acted as Vice Chairman of the Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection. After his term ended in 1984, he returned to Brussels as a civil servant. It was during this period, working as senior adviser to DG Environment and as Director of Energy Policy, that he helped forge one of the cornerstones of Europe's nature conservation policy – the Habitats Directive. Together with Stanley Clinton Davis, who was EU environment commissioner at the time, he conceived, drafted, battled for and then shepherded through the legislation, in the face of fierce opposition by European industry, resulting in the Directive finally being adopted in 1992. Together with the Birds Directive (1979), these pieces of legislation and their interpretation by the European Court of Justice have proven to be our strongest legal working tool to protect nature. All in all, the Habitats Directive protects over 1,000 animal and plant species and over 200 habitat types of European importance, and is the legal basis for the designation, protection and management of the Natura 2000 Network. This legislation probably ranks as one of the best examples in the world. Stanley is currently acting as an Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme’s  Convention on Migratory Species  ( – the only global convention specialising in the conservation of migratory species, their habitats and migration routes. This requires him to promote the conservation of migratory species through his work using his existing and other networks, to help raise the profile of these species and the threats they face to the public and national and global decision makers. Stanley has shown a keen interest in the RSPB’s efforts to establish an ocean sanctuary around Ascension Island. He has helped highlight the potential to create a 440,000km2 Marine Protected Area around Ascension, and has urged UK policy makers to declare this as soon as possible.

3.       The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

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