Some of the world’s brightest stars in conservation will be discussing the big wins and breakthrough solutions to preserve nature at our #PeopleforPlanet biodiversity summit at London’s Royal Institution on the 6th and 7th November.
The summit, timed ahead of COP28, will underline the critical role that biodiversity plays in achieving net zero.
Ten Whitley Gold Award winners from Africa, Asia and South America will be speaking in-person at the event, which will be a forum for exploring local and ingenious solutions to saving biodiversity, while celebrating the significant impact that these renowned conservation leaders have had in scaling grassroots solutions to address the urgent challenges facing our planet.
Meet the Gold Award Speakers
A full list of the incredible Gold Award winners who’ll be speaking at the summit can be seen below:
Dr. Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of WildlifeDirect. She has a PhD from Princeton and is an ecologist committed to transforming conservation results in Africa and the world through science, advocacy and education.
Paula is one of Africa’s best-known wildlife conservationists and sits on the boards of WWF International and National Geographic. She is the brainchild of the Hands Off Our Elephants campaign with Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, the immediate former First Lady of the Republic of Kenya. The campaign is widely recognized for its singular successes in advocacy and the engagement of the people of Kenya to support the protection of elephants.
Dr. Kahumbu is the producer and presenter of Africa’s first wildlife documentary series made by Africans called Wildlife Warriors which seeks to transform the conservation literacy in Africa by shining a light on the continent’s front-line conservationists. The award-winning series is broadcast on free to air channels and in schools across Kenya through the Wildlife Warriors Kids program which takes children on scientific wilderness expeditions.
She holds the title Order of the Grand Warrior (OGW) and is the Rolex NatGeo Explorer of the Year 2021, winner of the Whitley Gold Award 2021, and is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and was recognized by the Financial Times as one of the 25 most influential women of 2022. In her most recent venture, she joined Nat Geo as talent to present film a landmark series Secrets of the Elephants.
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.
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 Columbia 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.
Meet the Guest Speakers
We’re delighted to welcome the following guests, who’ll be speaking in-person at the live event:
Deborah Meaden is a highly successful entrepreneur and Dragons Den Investor. She started her first business at the age of 19, setting up one of the first ‘Stefanel’ fashion franchises in the UK, and became well-known for owning and developing a number of businesses in the leisure and retail sector.
Deborah is now a full-time investor with a wide ranging portfolio. She joined the panel of investors in the BBC2 programme ‘Dragon’s Den’ for its third series and has since invested in a number of sustainable and environmentally friendly business start ups. She also hosts the Big Green Money Show podcast interviewing business leaders on the impact they can have in reaching net zero and biodiversity goals. Outside the world of business, Deborah actively supports a number of environmental charities and initiatives, with roles including Trustee of the Tusk Trust, Patron of the RSPB, Fellow of the WWF, and visionary at Compassion in World Farming.
Alastair Fothergill is a director of Silverback Films Ltd and has been at the forefront of natural history programming for more than 30 years, as well as an Ambassador for WFN. He is the producer of landmark series such as Planet Earth, Netflix’s Our Planet, and most recently, the ground-breaking BBC One series Wild Isles.
Alastair joined the BBC Natural History Unit in 1983 and was appointed Head of the Unit in November 1992, aged 32. Alastair’s collaborations with Sir David Attenborough include ‘The Trials of Life’, ‘Life in the Freezer’, ‘The Blue Planet’, ‘Frozen Planet’, ‘Planet Earth’ and its companion feature film ‘Earth’ released in cinemas.
In November 2012, Alastair left the BBC to set up his own production company Silverback Films, making The Hunt for BBC1 and cinema films for Disney nature. Alastair is a fellow of the Royal Television Society and of the Royal Geographic Society, who awarded him their gold medal in 2012.
DanIelle De Niese
Hailed as “opera’s coolest soprano” by New York Times Magazine, Danni de Niese is a prolific recording artist, TV and media personality, and has appeared on the world’s most prestigious opera and concert stages. She has thrilled audiences worldwide from the Metropolitan Opera to Covent Garden, winning an Emmy Award as a TV host at the age of 16, and making her Broadway debut at 18 in Les Miserables, before going on to record with Hans Zimmer as the voice of Ridley Scott’s movie Hannibal.
Danni has recorded four solo albums, with her debut album seeing her named New Artist of the Year at the 2008 Echo Awards and nominated for the 2009 Classical Brit Award for Female Artist of the Year. She regularly presents the BBC Proms. Offstage, she is passionate about music education and inclusivity, and is an advocate for children’s rights, as well as for protecting our planet for the future as an Ambassador for WFN.
Television and radio presenter Tom Heap is an investigative journalist on BBC1’s Countryfile, presenter on Sky News’ The Climate Show with Tom Heap and the principal voice of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth.
He is a regular Panorama reporter covering food, farming, energy and wildlife, and author of 39 Ways to Save the Planet, which accompanied his BBC Radio 4 series exploring 39 innovations that address the current climate crises. Tom is a WFN Ambassador, and has featured Whitley Award winners on his Sky News’ Climate Show, and Radio 4’s Costing the Earth.
Dominique Palmer is a Climate Justice Activist, Speaker, Storyteller, Writer, and advocate of slow fashion based in the U.K. She is on the Steering Committee for the Youth Climate Justice Fund- the first global youth led climate fund, and on the Youth Council for New Zero World.
Dominique became an environmentalist after discovering how air pollution was impacting her community, and started her journey in climate action. The same year she was involved in organising the September 2019 climate strikes which brought 300,000 people on the streets in the U.K, and inspiring people across the world to take climate action. She was named in Forbes 2020 Top U.K Environmentalists List for her work, and in 2023, she was honoured as a ‘Young Leader’ at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards.
Dominique is a recent graduate student of the University of Birmingham studying Political Science and International Relations. She has featured in Guardian film “Whose Job is it To Save the Planet?” and appeared in publications including British Vogue, New York Times, BBC, National Geographic and Washington Post. Other outreach work includes hosting a panel at Overheated with Billie Eilish at the O2, recording a song for earth day with Swedish Grammy-winning artist, Titiyo, and hosting a ‘Climate Joy and Optimism’ event at London’s Southbank Centre.
John Fraher is Senior Executive Editor for Business, Finance and Climate at Bloomberg News. Overseeing more than 430 reporters and editors, John has a special interest in climate change and in how technology is disrupting business around the world. Previously, John ran Bloomberg’s coverage of global politics and has reported on economics, markets and European governments. He studied German and Modern History at University College, Oxford.
Dan O’Neill is a wildlife television presenter, film director, zoologist, creative producer and LGBTQIA+ activist. His background as a field biologist has equipped him with an extensive knowledge of rainforest biodiversity and survival skills, particularly in the Neotropics.
Dan directed and presented ‘Last Eden: Guyana’ which documented their journey. Since then, the documentary has been distributed across Europe by Viasat Nature. Through his experiences, Dan is developing an international understanding of how the wildlife trade affects local people, conservation and its connection to areas of conflict.
In early 2020, he travelled to the rebel-occupied red zone of western Mindanao to learn the conservation story of the most endangered raptor on the planet, the Philippine eagle. His film, ‘Queen of Birds’ which documented his journey has been viewed more than 2 million times around the world. He is returning to Mindanao in early 2023 on expedition with the Philippine Eagle Foundation (an organisation funded by WFN) & local indigenous leaders to rehabilitation.
Inka Cresswell is a Wildlife filmmaker/photographer and passionate ocean conservationist. After studying a Degree in Marine Biology and practising in the field, Inka went on to complete a Master’s in Wildlife Filmmaking. Her first film ‘MY 25: The Ocean Between Us’ which explored the complexities of marine protected areas and coral restoration was selected as a finalist at the Jackson Wild, United Nations and CITES World Wildlife Day biodiversity Showcase and Wildscreen Official Selection.
As an active advocate and filmmaker in the Ocean conservation space, Inka has delivered keynotes and panel discussions at Ultramarine, Sea 7, Wildscreen, Jackson Wild, Blue Earth Summit, Ocean Heroes Bootcamp as well as several universities. Her Goal is to make ocean conservation more accessible and to produce documentaries that share the beauty and wonder of our natural world whilst educating a new generation of ocean conservationists.
Jonathon Porritt is an eminent writer and campaigner on sustainable development. For the last 30 years, Jonathon has provided strategic advice to leading UK and international companies to deepen their understanding of today’s converging environmental and climate crises. He is also focused on intergenerational justice, supporting young people in their activities around sustainable development issues as they face a future defined by the twin crises of the Climate Emergency and Biodiversity Emergency.
In 1996, he co-founded Forum for the Future, a leading international sustainable development charity, working with business and civil society to accelerate the shift toward a sustainable future.
Jonathon was formerly Co-Chair of the Green Party (1980-83) and Director of Friends of the Earth (1984-90). He stood down as Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission in 2009, after nine years providing high-level advice to Government Ministers, and served a ten-year term as Chancellor of Keele University (2012-2022).
Jonathon was awarded a CBE in January 2000 for services to environmental protection. His latest book, Hope in Hell (Simon & Schuster, 2020, revised 2021) is a powerful ‘call to action’ on the Climate Emergency.
Hanli Prinsloo is a multiple South African freediving record holder and Founder/ CEO of I AM WATER Ocean Conservation. With a background in social political documentary filmmaking, Hanli has travelled the world seeking and telling stories of transformation, hope and inspiration. Her personal quest to freedive with marine megafauna has resulted in numerous exhibitions, films and articles about the human/animal connection.
Growing up on a horse farm in rural South Africa her love of nature and the need of wilderness experiences were instilled at an early age. Focusing on her sport, she excelled at competitive freediving and is a sought-after coach having worked with professional rugby players, cyclists, runners, big wave surfers and corporate leaders.
At present, Hanli’s energy is channelled into ocean conservation through human experience, reconnecting people with nature through the innovative I AM WATER ocean workshops offered to underserved coastal communities globally. She is also the co-founder of acclaimed adventure travel company I AM WATER Ocean Travel.
Luxmy Gopal is a BBC News presenter and reporter. During her BBC career, she has worked in national and regional news, in TV and radio, and for current affairs programmes. She is currently seen hosting weekend shows for BBC Breakfast, presenting live rolling news on the BBC News Channel, and both reporting and presenting for BBC London News.
While broadcasting is her passion, her earliest ambition as a young child was to follow in the footsteps of Sir David Attenborough, sparked by an interest in his documentaries, combined with a love of wildlife. While the documentary-filmmaker ship may have sailed, her keen interest in wildlife – particularly big cats – endures.
Glyn Davies is a Professor at Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology. He has been a leader in forest conservation and sustainable development policy and practice for 40 years, having been Director of Conservation Programmes at WWF UK and Zoological Society of London.
Glyn spent 12 years living and working in Africa, 8 years in Asia and most recently spent 5 years in Borneo (Sabah State, East Malaysia), developing a living landscape approach to wildlife conservation, sustainable food production and restoration of ecological corridors.
Alice Thomson is a columnist and interviewer at The Times. A former Times trainee, she became a foreign correspondent, feature writer and political reporter for the paper before moving to The Telegraph as a columnist, restaurant reviewer and leader writer. She has written for Vogue, The Spectator and appeared on Question Time and Newsnight.
Alice returned to The Times in 2008 and was chosen as the interviewer of the year at the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards in 2022. She is the co-author with Rachel Sylvester of What I Wish I’d Known When I Was Young: The Inspirational New Book About the Art and Science of Growing Up, and co-host of the Past Imperfect podcast on Times Radio.
Shark scientist Hollie Booth completed her PhD on ‘Interdisciplinary approaches to shark and ray conservation’ at the University of Oxford in 2021. Her work focused on understanding the socio-economic drivers of shark fishing and designing effective and equitable interventions in small-scale fisheries in Indonesia.
Collaborating with local stakeholders to solve complex conservation challenges, her research centres on applying methods that aim to deliver biodiversity and well-being outcomes in parallel. Hollie’s current research project at Oxford University’s Department of Biology builds on her PhD, and focuses on designing, implementing, and evaluating incentive-based approaches for marine biodiversity and human well-being outcomes in small-scale fisheries in collaboration with local NGOs and students. She also works as Nature Positive Technical Director for The Biodiversity Consultancy, advising private sector companies on mitigating the impacts of their value chains on nature and investing in nature restoration and recovery. Her work has seen her awarded the Society for Conservation Biology Early Career Researcher award (2022) and the Zoological Society of London Marsh Award for Marine & Freshwater Conservation (2023).
A first-generation PhD from a low income background, Hollie is passionate about equity and diversity in science, and she is particularly interested in promoting participation of women, local people, minority groups, and people from low-income backgrounds in conservation and academia.
Dr Sam Sinclair is a co-founder and director of Biodiversify, a consultancy which specialises in developing landscape-level plans for nature and supporting the private sector in developing nature-positive strategies.
Sam spent a decade working in conservation across Africa which culminated in a PhD at Imperial College London where he studied the social factors in biodiversity decision making. He drew from this expertise to help lead Biodiversify to the forefront of biodiversity sustainability. So far this has included authoring the first ever guidance for creating private sector biodiversity strategies, supporting the UK government in piloting key aspects of The Environment Act and partnering with companies that are pioneering in the nature positive space.
Nick Gates is a naturalist, author and filmmaker who has a passion for communicating the challenges that global nature faces by finding creative storytelling methods that reach a wide range of audiences. He is particularly keen on sharing knowledge around our food system and the solutions that allow food to be produced alongside nature, recently directing the Hungry For Change film for RSPB, WWF and The National Trust.
Nick co-authored the award-winning book Orchard which looks at wildlife-friendly farming. Prior to this he was a Producer Director on the BBC’s Wild Isles series and he’s currently working on a major Netflix series. Nick has worked closely with WFN for 10 years and is a strong supporter of their frontline, grassroots approach to conservation. Nick read Natural Sciences at Cambridge.