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RSPB Medal Winners

Last modified: 25 October 2012

Image: Andy Hay

The RSPB Medal is our most prestigious award, recognising outstanding contribution to nature conservation.

This year we had a dilemma, as two worthy candidates merited recognition for very different work with seabirds. Ultimately, it was decided that there would be two Medals at this year’s Annual General Meeting; Vice President, Professor Sir John Lawton awarded them.

Peter Harrison

The first medal went to Peter Harrison, widely considered to be the world’s foremost authority on seabirds. He is the author of Seabirds: An Identification Guide, regarded as the bible on seabird identification, and has been interested in seabirds for over 50 years. When this interest lead to an inevitable passion for their conservation, he worked tirelessly to raise money for conservation programmes.

Dr Mike Clarke praised Peter as an innovative fundraiser and a vital force behind the Save the Albatross Campaign saying: ‘without Peter’s backing for the Save the Albatross Campaign, the Albatross Task Force would not be the success it is today’. 

In more recent efforts Peter has raised funds for the Henderson Island Restoration project which works to eradicate rodents from this fragile island habitat. His input accounted for more than a third of funds raised – over half a million pounds. To do this Peter gave profits from his artwork – prints of paintings depicting five endemic bird species – and spoke out passionately at a reception hosted by the Minister at the Foreign Office.

In addition to his work as an RSPB and BirdLife International volunteer fundraiser, Peter is actively involved in researching the ecology and taxonomy of seabirds, and continues to make discoveries new to science. 

Mike Clarke added: ‘Birds, I suspect, fit neatly into his busy itinerary for life, which is probably why he’s credited with having seen more seabirds than anyone, past or present. In return, seabirds around the world have a lot to thank him for. And, so do we’.

Tristan da Cunha

The second medal awarded came as a break from tradition,  going to the entire community of Tristan da Cunha.

This island community is one of the remotest places in world, home to just 261 people and a six day boat ride from South Africa.

When the MS Olivia ran aground at Nightingale Island, 30km from Tristan da Cunha 1500 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea, threatening globally endangered species including two-thirds of the world’s population of rockhopper penguins.

Mike Clarke credited the response from the islanders as ‘phenomenal... with very few resources’. Having rescued the crew of the Olivia, the fishing vessel Edinburgh was then diverted from normal operation and used to transport 3,718 penguins to Tristan from Nightingale. With no landing stage on Nightingale – just a rock from which to transfer boxes of 6 or 8 oiled birds at a time into dinghies and then on to the ship – this was no mean feat.

Many people contributed to this complex rescue mission and on the island, the public workshed was converted into a rehabilitation centre. Here the local people cleaned the penguins, provided freshly caught fish and gave them medicines to soak up swallowed oil. Eighteen days after the oil spill, the first 24 penguins were released back to sea.

Mike Clarke added: ‘In recognition of the way that the entire community of Tristan da Cunha responded to this incident, and for the islanders’ commitment to protecting this globally important colony of rockhopper penguins, we’re delighted to award them the RSPB Medal.’ 

The award was collected by Michael Swales, President and Chairman of the Tristan da Cunha Association.

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