Turkish wildlife campaigner wins 2013 Whitley Gold Award

 

Professor Çağan Şekercioğlu convinces Turkish government

to create the country’s first wildlife corridor

London, UK: 2 May 2013 – HRH The Princess Royal today presented a Whitley Gold Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize, to Professor Çağan Şekercioğlu at a special ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society.

Şekercioğlu has played a key role in gaining international Ramsar recognition for Kuyucuk Lake in Turkey, home to 227 different bird species, and also initiated the country’s first-ever wildlife corridor for large carnivores. In the same year as being nominated as one of National Geographic’s Risk Takers and winning Turkey’s inaugural Wetland Science Award, Şekercioğlu receives the 20th Anniversary Whitley Gold Award which recognises an outstanding past recipient of a Whitley Award who has gone on to make a significant contribution to global conservation. Having received his first Whitley Gold Award in 2008, Şekercioğlu is the first person ever to win two Whitley Gold awards.

Responding to the news, Şekercioğlu said: “The Whitley Gold Award is the culmination of years of ongoing conservation work in Turkey. The success with Kuyucuk Lake, for which I won my first Whitley Gold Award in 2008, and now this Whitley Gold Award for Turkey’s first wildlife corridor, emphasises the importance of supporting local, grassroots conservationists because we are on the frontline and we can make a difference to people and wildlife that often come into conflict over limited space and resources.”

Şekercioğlu, 37, grew up in the suburbs of Istanbul completely obsessed by animals and whose first lesson in conservation left him devastated, when the wetlands where he played as a small child were built upon in his early teens. It was this early experience that would shape his life’s work and whose many achievements since then to safeguard Turkey’s threatened wildlife habitats have been inspired by an innate desire to save them from suffering the same fate as the wetland of his childhood recollections.

Şekercioğlu explains: “Turkey lies at the junction of three of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots: the Caucasus, Irano-Anatolian, and Mediterranean, yet it also faces one of the worst environmental crises in its history, threatened by new development projects, such as the construction of dams and highways, and the redrafting of existing environmental laws. This includes making development projects exempt from environmental impact assessments and allowing mining and construction in protected areas. Consequently, Turkey’s rank in the Yale Environmental Performance Index has dropped from 49th to 109th since 2006, and Turkey now ranks in the bottom 10% of the world’s countries in terms of biodiversity and habitat conservation.”

Against this backdrop, Şekercioğlu initiated the Kars-Iğdır Biodiversity Project in 2003. Under the umbrella of the NGO that he founded in 2007, KuzeyDoğa Society, Şekercioğlu played a key role in gaining international Ramsar recognition for Kuyucuk Lake – home to over 40,000 birds of 227 species, a key habitat for globally endangered White-headed Duck, Sociable Plover and Egyptian Vulture, and a mecca for international birdwatchers. He also succeeded in getting Turkey’s first bird nesting island built on the lake.

Furthermore, in December 2011, following three and a half years of persistent lobbying backed by camera trapping, wolf satellite-tracking and other scientific data collected for the first time in Turkey, Şekercioğlu convinced the national government to create the country’s first wildlife corridor, announced in June 2012 by the Minister of Forestry and Water Affairs Veysel Eroğlu in Turkey’s Congress.

The largest active conservation project in Turkey will see 4.5 million native trees being planted, reforesting approximately 2 500 hectares to connect the Sarıkamış-Allahuekber National Park and other forest fragments to the extensive forests along the Black Sea coast and the Caucasus mountains in neighbouring Georgia. The corridor will create a new protected area covering 28 543 hectares and which will be larger than 71% of Turkey’s 41 existing national parks. The wildlife corridor will achieve landscape-scale conservation objectives, connecting fragmented patches of forest through reforestation; preventing soil erosion; and increasing the safe movement of large carnivores such as wolves, brown bears and Caucasian lynx, thereby ensuring long-term habitat connectivity and the viability of their populations.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Şekercioğlu has his next mission in sight: to halt the construction of the Tuzluca Dam that will destroy the Aras Valley bird paradise he discovered in 2006 and has studied ever since. “The fight never ends,” comments Şekercioğlu. “The Aras Valley is one of the world’s most significant wetlands as it is home to most of the 470 bird species ever recorded in Turkey, including birds that migrate from dozens of countries, making it the richest wetland for birds in Eastern Turkey. Home to nearly 100 species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians as well, this globally important wetland hosts 40% of Turkey’s land vertebrate species and meets four Ramsar criteria of a globally important wetland. Destroying it would be an ecological massacre. Even though winning the Whitley Gold Award should be a time for celebration, we face our biggest challenge yet going forward.”

HRH The Princess Royal, the charity’s patron, says: “The secret of the Whitley Fund for Nature is that they find exceptional grassroots conservation leaders. Whitley Award winners hail from all over the world and come from a range of backgrounds, but they all have in common a fierce commitment and determination to make a real difference to local people and wildlife in their home countries. Every winner has a close connection with their community, as well as experience and an understanding of the issues, which often relate to human-wildlife conflict, but they also know how to make an impact through practical solutions, engaging people and initiating change at government level. That’s a rare skill. Let’s face it, there are ‘experts’ out there, who don’t always have that skill, but the Whitley Award winners do.”

This year, which marks the 20th anniversary of the Whitley Awards, saw a surge in applicants, with the highest number of entries yet to the scheme. First awarded in 1994, the Whitley Awards are presented annually to outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world. Since then, the Whitley Fund for Nature has given almost £10 million to conservation and recognised 160 conservation leaders in more than 70 countries.

“For 20 years now, the Whitley Awards have pioneered effective ways to protect wild nature,” says Sir David Attenborough, a Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature. “Perhaps the greatest legacy of the charity is the growing network of winners themselves who represent some of the best conservation leaders in the world. The range of challenges the winners face is remarkable, the solutions are diverse; and together their reach is truly global.”

Other winners in the 2013 Whitley Awards who will share in the prize funding worth £295,000 are:

• Whitley Award donated by Fondation Segré, Ekwoge Enang Abwe: Local community protection of the endangered great apes of Ebo Forest, Cameroon

• Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK, Aparajita Datta: Threatened hornbills as icons for the conservation of the Himalayan forests of Arunachal Pradesh, India

• Whitley Award donated by the Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature, Zahirul Islam: On Land and Sea: Community based sea turtle conservation, Bangladesh

• Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust, Zafer Kizilkaya: Turkey’s first community managed marine protected area in Gökova bay, Turkey

• Whitley Award donated by The LJC Fund in memory of Anthea and Lindsey Turner, Daniel Lejaroi Letoiye: Restoring grasslands for the coexistence of Grevy’s Zebra and free-ranging livestock, Kenya

• Whitley Award donated by Goldman Sachs, John Kahekwa Munihuzi: Inspiring community action for gorilla conservation, Democratic Republic of Congo

• Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation, Eugene Simonov: Keeping Rivers Wild and Free: International protection of the Amur River basin and wetlands in China, Russia and Mongolia

During their trip to London to accept their award, winners have the opportunity to meet the judges and HRH The Princess Royal, network with the other finalists, attend receptions with leading conservation organisations and academics, meet Whitley Fund for Nature donors and participate in professional development training. Joining the Judging Panel to assist in selection, Şekercioğlu will also act as mentor to Whitley Award winners receiving their Awards in the same year.

Visit www.whitleyaward.org to find out more about the charity, its donors and past winners.

To join the campaign to save Turkey’s Aras River Bird Paradise, visit: www.savearas.org .

- ENDS -

Media contacts:

For further information, images, or to arrange interviews contact: Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn at Firebird PR on +00 44 01235 835297 / +00 44 07977 459547 or via email to sp@firebirdpr.co.uk

Press materials available:

• Finalist biographies and project-specific information

• Additional quotes from Patron HRH The Princess Royal, Trustee Sir David Attenborough, Ben Fogle and others will be available

• Copyright-cleared photographs of the winners, their project and the awards ceremony will be available to download online via Picasa from 22.00 GMT on Thursday 2 May: https://picasaweb.google.com/105548002819098368093

• Video footage of the awards ceremony and an individual film featuring winners will be available upon arrangement with Firebird PR: contact Jane Bevan or Susannah Penn at Firebird PR on +00 44 01235 835297 / +00 44 07977 459547 or via email to sp@firebirdpr.co.uk

Notes to Editors:

• Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of its flagship Whitley Awards, the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity that champions outstanding grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world.

• The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to individuals in recognition of their achievements in nature conservation. Each Award Winner receives a prize worth £35,000 to be spent over one year. The charity’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presents the Awards each year at a special ceremony in London.

• WFN operates a rigorous application process involving expert panel representation from international NGOs including WWF-UK and Fauna and Flora International. This year, WFN received nearly 200 applications which passed through four stages of assessment, reviewed at every step by the screeners and panellists who kindly offer their expertise voluntarily.

• The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working in developing countries. Further eligibility criteria are available from Firebird PR.

• Whitley Award winners join an international network of Whitley Alumni eligible to apply for Continuation Funding. These follow-on grants are awarded competitively to winners seeking to scale up their effective conservation results on the ground. Each grant is worth up to £70,000 for projects of between one to two years in length.

• The Whitley Gold Award recognises an outstanding past recipient of a Whitley Award who has gone on to make a significant contribution to conservation. Joining the Judging Panel to assist in selection, the Gold winner also acts as mentor to Whitley Award winners receiving their Awards in the same year.

• WFN is generously supported by: Arcadia; The William Brake Charitable Trust; Byford Trust; Natasha and George Duffield; The Evolution Education Trust; Goldman Sachs; HSBC Holdings Plc; The LJC Fund; The Rufford Foundation; The Schroder Foundation; Fondation Segré; The Shears Foundation; Whitley Animal Protection Trust; The Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature; WWF-UK; and many individual donors.