Curlew conservationist wins prestigious award


Mary Colwell has been honoured with the RSPB's most prestigious award at the charity's Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Bedfordshire, recognising her outstanding contribution to nature conservation. 

A passionate advocate for nature, Mary has been chosen as the 2022 recipient of the RSPB Medal thanks to her tireless commitment to raising awareness of the plight of Eurasian Curlew, a wader that is increasingly threatened with extinction in Britain and Ireland. Using her platform, Mary also led the campaign to secure a Natural History GCSE in schools across the UK which was successful earlier this year.

Mary Colwell has been awarded the prestigious RSPB Medal.

On Mary's achievements, RSPB Chief Executive, Beccy Speight, commented: "The drastic loss of curlew from our countryside is a stark reminder of what we stand to lose should nature go unprotected and unrestored, and Mary's dedication to the plight of curlew should inspire us all. With unwavering passion, Mary has won the hearts and minds of many of us, including local communities, artists, musicians and conservation groups, emboldening us to rise to the challenge of protecting the nature we hold so dear.

"The importance of connecting to and understanding the wonders of wildlife has never been so clear. Making such strides in the creation of the Natural History GCSE, Mary's work will go a long way in inspiring and emboldening the conservationists of the future and we are absolutely delighted to honour Mary at our AGM today."

In 2016, Mary walked the length of Britain and Ireland to share the story of the drastic loss of Eurasian Curlew across our countryside. Her resulting book, Curlew Moon, describes the journey she took in order to engage new audiences and raise awareness of the plight of curlew. She also continues to share stories of curlew conservation in the media and has helped to secure advocacy meetings with Governments around the UK to best coordinate efforts to save this special bird.

Bringing a variety of conservationists together through Curlew Recovery Conferences, she is now Chair of the Curlew Recovery Partnership in England alongside the Networks for Nature forum, which brings together creative thinkers to tackle and share nature concerns.

This year's winner has also championed the importance of nature education, leading the campaign for a new GCSE in Natural History, which was successful in April 2022. Writing a passionate plea on the importance of learning through nature and improved environmental education, Mary's work was included in the ground-breaking DasGupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity.

Mary has worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of Eurasian Curlew (Mark Ferris).

On receiving the award, Mary Colwell said: "This medal is such an honour from one of the greatest conservation organisations in the world. I am aware of the giants who have received it in the past and feel very humbled.

"The pressures on nature are huge, and we need short, medium and long-term strategies to tackle them. There are immediate conservation actions, such as protecting nests or planting wildlife gardens for example. There are the medium-term – restoring habitats like meadows, wetlands, farmland, saltmarsh, and encouraging the right tree in the right place. But there is also the long game – the large-scale societal changes that have to happen if any of these initiatives are to bed-in and become normalised.

"This is why I have been so passionate about nature education. It is vital we have a nature-literate society where people are not only enchanted by nature, but they are also informed. I don't believe we will save nature from the onslaught it faces unless everyone pulls together."

Mary's latest book, Beak Tooth and Claw: why we must live with predators, brings a measured discussion to the world of predator management in Britain and has been commended by countless conservationists for its navigation of the challenging topic. This adds to Mary's impressive history of bringing together a vast array of voices for nature in order to tackle, challenge and collaborate on the conservation issues we face today.

Previous RSPB Medal winners include HRH The Prince of Wales (2010), Sir David Attenborough (2000), Bill Oddie (1997), Stanley Johnson (2015) and Caroline Lucas MP (2018). In 2012 there was a very unusual winner; the entire community of Tristan da Cunha were awarded the Medal for their efforts when the ship, MS Oliva, ran aground at Nightingale Island, 30 km from Tristan da Cunha, spilling 1,500 tonnes of oil into the sea and threatening globally endangered species, including two-thirds of the world's population of Northern Rockhopper Penguins.