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Whitley Award donated by The Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature – winner Zahirul Islam, Bangladesh

Conservation leader from Bangladesh wins 2013 Whitley Award

The Whitley Awards celebrate 20 years

of global conservation achievements

London, UK: 2 May 2013 – HRH The Princess Royal today presented a Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize, to Zahirul Islam at a special ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in honour of his community-based sea turtle conservation work.

Zahirul Islam is one of eight exceptional individuals to have been awarded a share of prize funding worth £295,000 by the Whitley Fund for Nature, winning a Whitley Award donated by the Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature. Having played a key role in Bangladesh’s first ever project for the conservation of sea turtles from 1996 to 1998, Islam founded research and conservation organization MarineLife Alliance in 1999 to conduct research on ocean resources, becoming a Whitley Award Finalist and Associate Award Winner in 2008. This early support helped fund the first satellite tracking of sea turtles in Bangladesh to monitor and gather vital research data, particularly about their migratory routes.

Islam’s work focuses on the coastal and marine habitat of Cox’s Bazar, a diverse ecosystem that is also a critical habitat for migratory seabirds, whales, dolphins and sharks and, as a keystone species, sea turtles can help offer wider protection of marine habitats and coastal nurseries with a long term vision of creating an offshore marine reserve where other marine fauna can flourish. Islam and his team are working to actively protect turtles along this 140km stretch of coastline through community-led field interventions including ongoing monitoring and protection of sea turtle nesting sites (Olive Ridley and green turtle). Raising awareness among the public and decision makers to establish wildlife conservation and monitoring systems will ensure offshore fishermen and the local people will become major stakeholders, providing new hope for the future of Bangladesh’s sea turtles.

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 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 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 had 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.

HRH The Princess Royal also presented a special prize donated by the Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature, the Whitley Gold Award worth £50,000, to Çağan Şekercioğlu of Turkey, a past Award winner who has used his grant money to particularly outstanding effect. 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.

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

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Media contacts:

• For further information or to arrange interviews contact Firebird PR: 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:

• Copyright-cleared photographs of Zahirul Islam, his 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 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.