Press Releases

Whitley Award donated by the Shears Foundation in memory of Trevor Shears – winner Purnima Barman, India

17 May 2017

Conservation leader from India wins 2017 Whitley Award

Prize awarded for inspiring women to protect Assam’s greater adjutant and its habitat

HRH The Princess Royal will tomorrow present a Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize worth £35,000 in project funding, to Purnima Barman at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, in honour of her work to protect Assam’s greater adjutant and its wetland habitat.

Greater adjutant storks – or Hargila in the local language – have an image
problem. These giant scavenger birds have a reputation as unwelcome
neighbours with their noisy, messy and smelly nesting habits. With a global
population of less than 1,200 mature individuals, 75% of which are found in
Assam in North East India, the greater adjutant needs help to prevent the felling of nesting trees by landowners wishing to rid themselves of the storks and the threat of wetland destruction. To tackle this issue, Purnima Barman, of NGO Aaranyak has developed alternative livelihoods for villagers engaging them with the project and turning bird haters into bird lovers.

Purnima has mobilised followers into the ‘Hargilla Army’ an all-female team of
conservationists dedicated to protecting the greater adjutant who through this
programme are offered sustainable livelihood, training and education
opportunities. The project is giving marginalised women a voice. Together they
are changing local perceptions and numbers of stork nests have risen from 30
seven years ago to over 150 today. With her Whitley Award, Purnima will scale
up this work, encouraging householders to take pride in the species and
protect the birds and their nesting trees. She will conduct research into the
impact of pollution and garbage consumption on the stork’s reproduction and
undertake work to secure legal protection of wetland habitat, home to the
largest nesting colony of greater adjutants.

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “WFN focus on
conservation success stories which give us a reason for optimism. The Awards
Ceremony is about recognising progress – winning those small battles which
cumulatively equate to change at the national level. In addition to the
financial benefit of winning an Award, winners receive professional
communications training to turn scientists into ambassadors, so they are able to communicate effectively with the public and inform change at the political

Purnima is one of six individuals to have been awarded a share of the prize
money worth £210,000, winning the Whitley Award donated by The Shears
Foundation in memory of Trevor Shears.

Other winners in the 2017 Whitley Awards are:

  • Sanjay Gubbi – India
    Reducing deforestation in Karnataka’s tiger corridors, India
    The Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK
  • Indira Lacerna-Widmann – Philippines
    Partnering with prisoners to safeguard the Critically Endangered Philippine cockatoo
    The Whitley Award donated by Notting Hill Preparatory School
  • Ian Little – South Africa
    Custodians of South Africa’s threatened grassland biodiversity
    The Whitley Award donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation
  • Alexander Blanco – Venezuela
    Nest protectors: conserving Venezuela’s magnificent harpy eagles as a rainforest flagship
    The Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake
  • Ximena Velez-Liendo – Bolivia
    An uphill climb: enabling coexistence of Andean bears and farmers in the Bolivian mountains
    The Whitley Award donated by the Savitri Waney Charitable Trust

Sir David Attenborough, a Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature, added: “It is
now more important than ever to invest in those working to protect our planet.
The Whitley Fund for Nature is at the forefront of supporting these heroic

HRH The Princess Royal will also present the 2017 Whitley Gold Award – a
prestigious profile and funding prize awarded to a previous Whitley Award
winner in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation. The
Whitley Gold Award is donated by The Friends and Scottish Friends of the
Whitley Fund for Nature and is worth £50,000.

This year’s recipient is 2013 Whitley Award winner, Zafer Kizilkaya for his project – ‘Guardians of the sea: securing and expanding marine reserves along the Turkish coastline’. Zafer is President of the Mediterranean Conservation Society, an NGO which aims to conserve Turkey’s marine and coastal ecosystems. He leads a series of projects in the area working with local fishing communities, coastguards and government to promote ocean conservation and sustainable fishing practices that benefit wildlife such as monk seals, sand bar sharks and loggerhead turtles, and boost fisher income. With his Whitley Gold Award Zafer will consolidate his efforts in Gökova Bay and scale up his successful approach in nearby Fethiye Bay. His long term vision is to replicate his work throughout the Mediterranean.


Press materials available:
• Video footage of the Awards Ceremony, individual films featuring the award
winner and copyright-cleared photographs will be available upon arrangement
with Firebird PR: contact Jane Bevan or Jana Fickerova at Firebird PR on +00 44
01235 835297 or via email to [email protected] or [email protected]

Notes to Editors:
• Contact Firebird PR for further information: Jane Bevan or Jana Fickerova at
Firebird PR on +00 44 01235 835297 or via email to [email protected] or
[email protected]
• 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 in project funding over one year. The charity’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal, presents the Awards each year at a special ceremony in London.
• The Whitley Awards have been presented annually since 1994. Since then, the
Whitley Fund for Nature has given over £13.5 million to conservation and
recognised more than 185 conservation leaders in over 80 countries.
• WFN operates a rigorous application process involving expert panel representation from international NGOs including WWF-UK, Fauna and Flora International and the World Land Trust. This year, WFN received 166 applications which passed through four stages of assessment, reviewed at every step by expert screeners and panellists who kindly offer their expertise voluntarily.
• The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working on wildlife conservation issues in developing countries. Further eligibility criteria are available from Firebird PR.
• During their trip to London for the Awards week finalists have the opportunity to meet the judges, WFN trustees, including Sir David Attenborough and WFN’s patron HRH The Princess Royal. In addition they are able to network with the other finalists, attend receptions with leading conservation organisations and academics, meet Whitley Fund for Nature donors and participate in professional media and speech training. Meeting the media is also a significant event since publicity both in the UK and their home countries helps raise the profile of their work.
• Whitley Award winners join an international network of Whitley Award alumni
eligible to apply for Continuation Funding grants. These follow-on grants are
awarded competitively to winners seeking to scale up their effective conservation results on the ground over 1-2 years.
• 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: The Arcus Foundation; The William Brake
Charitable Trust; The Byford Trust; Sarah Chenevix-Trench; The Constance Travis Charitable Trust; Notting Hill Preparatory School; The G D Charitable Trust; HSBC Holdings Plc; Icon Films; Interconnect IT; Jeremy & Britta Lloyd; Lund Trust: a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing; The Thomson Reuters Foundation; The Rufford Foundation; The Savitri Waney Charitable Trust; The Schroder Foundation; Fondation Segré; The Shears Foundation; The Garfield Weston Foundation; HDH Wills 1965 Charitable Trust; The Whitley Animal Protection Trust; WWF-UK; The Friends and Scottish Friends of the Whitley Fund for Nature; and many individual and anonymous donors to whom we are grateful.

Download this press release