Press Releases

Whitley Fund for Nature Announces People for Planet Biodiversity Summit Pre COP28

London, Sept 28, 2023: The Whitley Fund for Nature will gather the world’s biggest stars in conservation to discuss big wins and breakthrough solutions to preserve nature at its #PeopleforPlanet biodiversity summit Nov. 6 and 7 at London’s Royal Institution.

The summit will be a forum to celebrate the significant impact on biodiversity of Whitley Gold Award winning conservationists across the world and to learn how to scale grassroots solutions in nature to address the urgent challenges facing our planet. The Whitley Fund for Nature is a UK charity backed by Sir David Attenborough which accelerates the work of grassroots conservationists. Since its founding 30 years ago by Edward Whitley OBE, it has channelled more than £20 million to 214 conservationists. Sir David describes Whitley Award winners as among “the best conservationists in the world.”

Whitley Fund for Nature Ambassadors, wildlife film-maker Alastair Fothergill, opera’s “coolest soprano,” Danni de Niese, and presenter Tom Heap will be on stage during the event during which conservationists from Africa, Asia and South America will explore local and ingenious solutions to save biodiversity. These include giving free dentistry in exchange for not cutting tropical rainforests in Indonesia; persuading tequila brands in Mexico to allow agave crops to flower so that the “tequila bat” can feed and engaging Samburu warriors as protectors of lions in northern Kenya. The summit, timed ahead of COP28, will underline the critical role that biodiversity plays in achieving net zero.

From 1:00 pm, Monday, Nov. 6, attendees will hear from scientists including large carnivore researcher, Cagan Sekercioglu – who secured Turkey’s first wildlife corridor, shark specialist Dr Rachel Graham from Central America and other award-winning conservationists as they discuss topics including redefining carbon offset schemes and how they, and wildlife species, are responding to a hotter planet. Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust, Dr Charu Mishra, will discuss inclusivity. His approach to engage local people effectively and ethically as partners in conservation was described as an “outstanding conservation practice” by COP15. The day will end at 8:00 pm after an evening of storytelling.

On Tues, Nov. 7, summit attendees can learn from conservationists including Argentina’s Dr Pablo Borboroglu, marine biologist and a world-leading expert on penguins, as well as the “Bat Man of Mexico”, Professor Rodrigo Medellin, as they and others address themes including how to safeguard our seas and the role of pollinators in global food security, as well as the financialization of biodiversity. From 6:00 pm, attendees will hear from Producers Alastair Fothergill and Nick Gates about the making of BBC Wild Isles.

The full list of Whitley Gold Award winners attending, with biographies, is below and more speakers will be announced in coming weeks. Session topics and a full programming agenda is available on our website. The event is ticketed and media are invited to apply to attend in person via the contact details below. To purchase tickets please follow this link.

For more information please contact:

Carol Roussel, Head of Media Relations at Whitley Fund for Nature
E: [email protected]
T. 07379 019 804

Kate Stephenson, Head of Communications at Whitley Fund for Nature
E: [email protected]
T. 07460 136 57



Dr Shivani Bhalla is founder of Ewaso Lions in northern Kenya, whose work with her team of Samburu warriors, elders and women has seen local lion numbers rise to a record even as the number of lions plunges across Africa amid deepening droughts. Lions are more endangered than elephants and rhinos in Africa. Shivani is accelerating an expansion in local leadership to protect the lions of Samburu and rolling out a worldwide programme for conservation to boost the skills needed by local people so they can continue to coexist with wildlife. She is the 2023 Whitley Gold Award winner and a National Geographic Explorer. Shivani has a PhD from Oxford.


Dr Pablo Borboroglu from Patagonia, Argentina, is a leading penguin expert, whose work has led to the protection of 32 million acres of marine and coastal areas as well as 3.5 million penguins. With a PhD in marine biology, Pablo is founder and president of the Global Penguin Society, an international organisation dedicated to penguin conservation through science, habitat protection and education. Co-founder and co-chair of the IUCN Penguin Specialist Group, he says penguins are “the perfect indicator of ocean health” and has dramatic examples of how nature can recover: under his watch, a colony of 12 penguins severely impacted by human disturbance and plastic pollution now exceeds 8,000. Pablo is the 2018 Whitley Gold Award winner as well as the winner of this year’s Indianapolis Prize.

Rachel Graham

Dr Rachel Graham has been described in the New York Times as the “aquatic Jane Goodall” for her work with sharks, creating new and inclusive approaches to research and achieving species and site protections for several fish species in Belize. She is the founder of MarAlliance which works with coastal communities across multiple tropical countries, including Panama, where she is now based, to seek win-win outcomes for fishing communities and threatened marine wildlife. Her work received pioneering funding as part of Belize’s debt-for-nature swap. Rachel is the 2011 Whitley Gold Award winner and a member of the IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group, the Species Monitoring Group and the World Commission on Protected Areas.


2017 Whitley Gold Award winner Zafer Kizilkaya established Turkey’s first network of no fishing Zones in the Mediterranean Sea, a model that has now been scaled up across 500km2 of Turkey’s coastline. One of the most overfished areas, the Med is now experiencing an invasion of lionfish from the Red Sea on a “one-way ticket” to warmer waters. Zafer has a solution – getting them on the menu at restaurants, removing harmful invasive species from the ecosystem and allowing native fish to bounce back. A photographer and civil engineer, Zafer is president of the Mediterranean Conservation Society based in Gokova Bay. He is this year’s Goldman Prize winner. Zafer’s work to expand Turkey’s marine protected areas has been highlighted by the United Nations at COP15 to illustrate the benefits of ecosystem restoration.


Dr Dino J Martins is a Kenyan entomologist and evolutionary biologist. His work on pollinators and with farmers has focused on the “little things that run the world” and the deep intrinsic connections between human life, livelihoods, and nature. The 2015 Whitley Gold Award winner, Dino is now a trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature. Dino is CEO of the Turkana Basin Institute, leading research at the intersection of evolution, genomics, climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development. He has researched insect-plant interactions and worked with farmers on sustainable agriculture. Author of “Our friends the pollinators,” Dino has examples of crops, including passion fruit and eggplant which have seen a tenfold increase in yields thanks to better pollination. Dino has a PhD from Harvard.


Professor Rodrigo Medellin is known as “The Bat Man of Mexico,” and is an expert in ecology and biodiversity conservation. Rodrigo has studied and protected “the tequila bat,” for 40 years. This bat is the only pollinator of agave, tequila’s key ingredient. He is persuading tequila brands to become “bat friendly” by setting aside some agave plants and enabling them to flower instead of harvesting them all, allowing bats to feed. Senior Professor of ecology at the Institute of Ecology, University of Mexico and adjunct professor at Colombia University, Rodrigo is the former head of the Wildlife Department of the Mexican Federal Government, has authored over 300 publications, directed over 60 theses, and is founding director of the Latin American Network for Bat Conservation as well as co-chair of the IUCN Bat Specialist Group. He is the 2012 Whitley Gold Winner and subject of an award-winning Sir David Attenborough documentary about bats. Rodrigo is a COP-appointed scientific counsellor for the Convention of Migratory Species and a National Geographic Explorer-at-Large. His work has been featured in films by the BBC, National Geographic and more.


Dr Charu Mishra is Executive Director of the Snow Leopard Trust. His collaborative work with international partners led to a historic treaty in which all 12 snow leopard range country governments agreed to protect 25 percent of snow leopard habitat. Charu pioneered the “Partners Principles’ — a framework for conservation practitioners on how to engage with local communities effectively and ethically for conservation. This approach was described as an “outstanding conservation practice” by COP15. Today, local and indigenous communities of High Asia working with the Snow Leopard Trust’s partner network protect more than 50,000 square miles of the species’ habitat. Charu is the 2022 Whitley Gold Award recipient and a National Geographic Explorer. Along with other Whitley and National Geographic Explorer alumni, Charu is launching a global alliance to trigger a worldwide movement in ethical conservation and to train practitioners in the skills of how to effectively engage with local and indigenous communities for conservation.


Conservationist and dentist, Indonesia’s Dr Hotlin Ompusunggu started giving free dental care to locals in a remote corner of southwest Borneo so they would not be forced to log orangutan habitat to pay for healthcare fees. Founder of nonprofit ASRI, Hotlin has expanded a successful healthcare
model to Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem, one of Asia’s largest carbon sinks and the largest intact place on earth where orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos coexist. Hotlin provides dental care to communities at a discounted rate or accepts conservation payments in lieu, such as tree seedlings to reforest degraded areas. Hotlin is the 2016 Whitley Gold winner and a National Geographic Explorer.


Professor Çağan Şekercioğlu established Turkey’s first wildlife corridor for Europe’s brown bears, wolves and lynx, and is now focused on saving Turkey’s rapidly disappearing wetlands. Turkey’s most prolific wildlife documentary maker and the 2008 and 2013 Whitley Gold Award winner, Çağan is the founder of the NGO, KuzeyDoğa Society, which was instrumental in securing recognition for Lake Kuyucuk as a Ramsar wetland of international importance. To secure the official protection of the Aras River wetlands, Çağan has mounted a continuing legal challenge to stop the construction of a large dam, originally planned for construction in 2013, by evidencing the importance of the habitat for thousands of migratory birds. He is a National Geographic explorer and photographer, the youngest recipient of Turkey’s top scientific award and among the most cited 1% of ecologists and ornithologists worldwide. Çağan has worked at Stanford and Harvard universities and is a professor of ornithology and conservation ecology at the University of Utah and Koç University.


Biologist Jean Wiener created Haiti’s first six marine protected areas and his goal is to increase the value attributed to mangroves in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, where 80 percent of the population live in low-lying coastal zones. Founder of the NGO, FoProBiM, Jean pushed through legislation which protects all of Haiti’s mangroves along 1,700 km of coastline. Coastal mangroves sequester carbon at a rate that is five times greater than tropical rainforests and protect from storm surges. Jean is a member of multiple IUCN commissions and won the 2014 Whitley Gold award, the Erick Eckman award (the first environmental award given by Haiti), the Goldman Environmental prize, and a Knighthood from the government of France, a Chevalier dans l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole.