Princess presents top conservation accolade to Croatian cave explorer

LONDON, UK: 11 MAY 2011 – HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) tonight presented one of the world’s top prizes for grassroots nature conservation – a Whitley Award – to Jana Bedek, a biologist and caver from Croatia, for her work to explore, study and raise public awareness of the wildlife-rich caverns, tunnels, rivers and lakes which lie beneath the Dinarides mountains.

Jana Bedek, the president of the Croatian Bio-speleological Society (CBSS), received her prize during a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, hosted by The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) – the UK-based charity behind the international awards scheme.

The award includes a project grant of £30,000 – donated by The Shears Foundation, an engraved trophy, membership of the influential network of past Whitley Award winners, international recognition and professional development training.

It recognises Jana Bedek’s efforts to increase scientific and public knowledge of the rare and unusual underground habitats and species of the Dinaric Alps, and their economic potential, and her plans to expand the project to the other areas of karst found between Italy and Albania.

The evening’s top honour – the £60,000 Whitley Gold Award – went to marine biologist Dr Rachel Graham, of Belize, for her work to protect Belize’s sharks and coastal biodiversity and so safeguard local livelihoods and Belize’s economically-important tourism industry.

In addition, Her Royal Highness presented other Whitley Awards worth £30,000 each to conservation leaders from Argentina, India, Indonesian Borneo, Russia and Uzbekistan. 

For the full results, please see the Notes overleaf.

Commenting on Jana Bedek’s success, Georgina Domberger, Director of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “The aim of the Whitley Awards is to identify and applaud inspirational conservation leaders, and give them new funds and skills to enable them to make even greater use of their scientific expertise and local knowledge to deliver real and lasting benefits for people and wildlife and the places both share. 

“In Jana’s case, the judges were particularly impressed by her courageous efforts to improve our understanding of this very special but highly hazardous subterranean world – a refuge for an extraordinary range of extraordinary creatures, some of them so rare they are found nowhere else on Earth. 

The ceremony at which Jana Bedek received her accolade was co-hosted by the author and broadcaster John McCarthy and witnessed by a 350-strong audience which included embassy officials, Whitley Fund for Nature donors, including HBSC and WWF-UK, and many leading environmentalists.

The Whitley Awards scheme is an annual competition, first held in 1994. In the 18 years since the scheme began, it has given grants worth more than £6m to support the work of inspirational conservation leaders in 70 countries and built a network of more than 120 Whitley alumni.  To learn more about the charity, its donors and past winners, please see: www.whitleyaward.org.

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Media enquiries:

Pam Beddard

Publicist – Whitley Awards 2011

(t): +44 117 987 0442 or +44 7767 621207

(e): pam.beddard@btinternet.com

Awards Ceremony photographs

Copyright-cleared photographs of winners receiving their Whitley Awards will be available from https://picasaweb.google.com/105548002819098368093 shortly after the ceremony ends or can be emailed direct on request (see contact details above). Portraits of the finalists and project images are also available from the same Picasa folder or by email, on request.

Notes to Editors

The Whitley Awards are the flagship grants of the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), a UK-registered charity. WFN’s aim is to identify the world’s most dynamic conservation leaders and support them in practical work that benefits both wildlife and local communities. The first Whitley Award was given in 1994 when a single winner received £15,000 GBP. Since then, the number and value of the prizes has grown so that the awards are now acknowledged internationally as one of most valuable accolades a conservationist can win.

To be considered, entrants must display a strong track record in science-based conservation and a viable plan for taking their work further. A hallmark of the scheme is that WFN seeks to remain in close contact with past winners and facilitates the sharing of best practice, contacts and ideas. In this way, WFN maintains links with more than 120 conservation leaders in 70 countries. For more information, please see www.whitleyaward.org.

Whitley Awards 2011 – results

Whitley Gold Award, donated by WWF-UK 

+ Whitley Award donated by George and Natasha Duffield

Dr Rachel T. GRAHAM (Belize) , the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Programme, who is protecting Belize’s sharks, rays and other ocean giants – a valuable eco-tourism attraction but increasingly imperilled by local misconceptions and unsustainable fishing by other countries.

Whitley Award donated by The Friends of The WFN

Dr Ramana ATHREYA (India), an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and a co-ordinator with Eco-Systems India, who is working on landscape and biodiversity protection in India’s least populated state: Arunachal Pradesh, by forming conservation alliances with Himalayan tribes-people.

Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation

Jana BEDEK (Croatia), a biologist, caver and President of the Croatian Bio-speleological Society who is capturing local knowledge to protect both the vast limestone cave systems which lie beneath the Dinaric Alps, stretching from Italy to Albania, and the many unusual creatures found there and nowhere else on Earth.

Whitley Award donated by The Scottish Friends of The WFN

Elena BYKOVA (Uzbekistan), , who, as Executive Secretary of the Saiga Conservation Alliance and as a researcher with the Institute of Zoology at Uzbekistan’s Academy of Sciences, is working in the desert-steppes between the Aral and Caspian Seas on safeguarding the critically-endangered saiga antelope, including by restoring local pride in traditions associated with the animal.

Whitley Award donated by Goldman Sachs

Dr Hotlin OMPUSUNGGU (Indonesian Borneo) who, as head of Alam Sehat Lestari (Healthy, Nature, Everlasting) and a dentist, is trying to sever the links between poverty, ill-health and ecological damage to the Gunung Palung National Park, in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, by letting poor communities ‘pay’ for healthcare by becoming guardians of the forests where gibbons and orangutans live.

Whitley Award donated by The Garfield Weston Foundation

Dr Igor PROKOFYEV (Russia), the director of PERESVET (Grassroots Alliance) and head of bio-monitoring at Bryansk University, who is inspiring communities in Western Russia to take part in the country’s first ever conservation movement for bats and ensuring the region remains a world-relevant haven for them, despite recent loss of habitat to urban development.

Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust

Luis RIVERA (Argentina), a biologist at Jujuy National University and the President of the CEBio Foundation who is using colourful endangered parrots as the emblem of a campaign to boost tourism income and rally public support for the conservation of the species-rich Yungas forests, in the eastern shadow of the Andes.

Issued by:

The Whitley Fund for Nature

33 Drayson Mews

London W8 4LY

United Kingdom

+44 20 7368 6568

info@whitleyaward.org

www.whitleyaward.org