Top conservationists and committed volunteers win prestigious awards

The outstanding contributions of five individuals and one organisation were celebrated at the British Trust for Ornithology’s annual awards ceremony last week.

The event at London’s Mall Galleries brought together celebrated scientists, dedicated volunteers and BTO staff. It was co-hosted by the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) Natural Eye Exhibition.

The 2023 Marsh Awards for Ornithology were presented at an event held at London’s Mall Galleries on Thursday 2 November, recognising the outstanding contributions made by both professional and volunteer ornithologists. The awards are presented through a partnership between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Marsh Charitable Trust.

Over 230 guests attended the event, which is supported by the Society of Wildlife Artists, whose Natural Eye exhibition provides a stunning backdrop to the evening, celebrating the ornithological achievements of the award winners.

This year’s BTO Marsh Award for Ornithology went to Aldina Franco, Associate Professor of Ecology and Global Environmental Change at the University of East Anglia. She has spent years at the forefront of the study of animal movement and has many long-running collaborations with BTO, including co-development of research and supervision of PhD students and post-doctoral researchers.

This year’s BTO Marsh Award for Young Ornithologist was won by 21-year-old Mya Bambrick. Mya has been a BTO Youth Representative since early 2022. Her expert knowledge and passion for birds and the natural world has inspired countless others. She recently raised almost £3,000 for BTO with a series of sponsored walks, which she also presented as YouTube videos.

The BTO Marsh Award for Local Ornithology was given to the Royal Air Force Ornithological Society (RAFOS) in recognition of their valuable work recording waterbirds in northern Scotland. Since 1999, RAFOS volunteers have monitored birds along 500 miles of coastline between Kyle of Lochalsh and John O’Groats, taking in some of the UK’s most important but least well-surveyed wetland habitats. RAFOS was founded in 1965 to promote birdwatching and monitoring at RAF bases in the UK and abroad.

Alongside the Marsh Awards for Ornithology, BTO also presented its Bernard Tucker Medal, awarded in recognition of outstanding contributions to BTO’s scientific work, and Dilys Breese Medal, awarded to outstanding communicators who deliver science to new audiences.

The BTO Bernard Tucker Medal was presented to pioneering Welsh ornithologist Stephanie Tyler. A recognised authority on birds in river habitats, she has shown unfailing commitment to BTO’s most important work, including the national atlases, Common Birds Census and Breeding Bird Survey, often in a coordinating role. In recognition of her long and illustrious career in conservation biology, she was awarded the Welsh Ornithological Society’s lifetime achievement award in 2015 and was made an MBE in 2021.

BTO Dilys Breese Medals were awarded to Harriet Mead and Jack Baddams. The medal is given in recognition of outstanding communication of BTO work to new audiences; its recipients are chosen by a panel of BTO staff which this year decided to present two awards. Using social media, Jack Baddams has brought bird ringing to a younger audience and champions its value to science and conservation. Harriet Mead is a sculptor and has been president of the SWLA since 2012. In that time, she has enabled collaboration between BTO and the SWLA on projects including the Flight Lines book and exhibitions, allowing BTO to build relationships with new supporters.

BTO Chief Executive Professor Juliet Vickery said: “This year’s award winners have all done extraordinary things to help understand and conserve birds, and to share the beauty and wonder of the natural world with others. Tackling the biodiversity crisis needs this sort of creativity and dedication and it is an honour to recognise their achievements.”