Presentation ceremony of the 17th edition

The Biodiversity Conservation Awards assert the need to join forces at the global level to tackle the environmental crisis that threatens the future of life on our planet

The central message from winners at the ceremony of the BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation was that we need to join forces globally to tackle the environmental crisis that threatens the future of our planet. Awards in this 17th edition recognize the efforts to conserve three iconic species of the Mediterranean woodland – the Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle and the cinereous vulture – led by Fundación CBD-Hábitat; the work down by the International Snow Leopard Trust to protect the snow leopard  and the Asian mountain ecosystem that harbors this endangered cat; and the rigor and innovativeness of environmental journalist Clemente Álvarez, head of the Climate and Environment section of daily newspaper El País.

24 November, 2022

The twin crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change is without doubt “the single greatest challenge of this first half of the 21st century,” said Rafael Pardo, Director of the BBVA Foundation, during his speech at the presentation ceremony. Yet the commitment of tonight’s awardees and the results they have obtained “are not just of extraordinary value in themselves, they also set an example to be followed, giving us hope that we can partly reverse decades of brutal exploitation of the natural living environment.”

The successes of CBD-Hábitat (biodiversity conservation projects in Spain) and the International Snow Leopard Trust (biodiversity conservation worldwide), and the way they were achieved, “are at once a sturdy dam and an effective tool to contain and reverse biodiversity losses,” the Foundation’s Director remarked. At the same time, Clemente Álvarez, awardee in Knowledge Dissemination and Communication in Biodiversity Conservation in Spain, “has a long history of specialization as a leading environmental journalist and, from the pages and digital space of newspaper El País, has provided us with a steady stream of timely and objective news stories, verified against the best knowledge and readily available through innovative channels and formats; in sum information we can rely on.”

In closing, the Director of the BBVA Foundation applauded the essential work done by conservationist organizations and environmental communicators like the winners in this 17th edition of the Biodiversity Conservation Awards for “defending the interests of those who cannot speak for themselves, the inherently valuable wildlife and ecosystems that today so need and deserve our ethical consideration; a unique legacy of which we have no right to deprive future generations or indeed our own.”

Award for Biodiversity Conservation in Spain

Land stewardship to secure the survival of lynxes, eagles and vultures

By the end of the last century, the Iberian lynx was on the verge of extinction, its population down to fewer than 100 individuals. At the same time, the Spanish imperial eagle and the cinereous vulture were struggling to cope with severe food shortages due to declining rabbit populations and the ban on leaving animal carcasses out in the open following the crisis of mad cow disease. It was against this grim backdrop that CBD-Hábitat came into being 24 years ago with the aim of saving these three iconic species of the Mediterranean woodlands and restoring their natural habitats by means of agreements establishing a land stewardship model on privately owned estates.

“All this could never have come about without the goodwill and cooperation of a few private landowners, who had worked to preserve the last remaining populations of these species, and were our first and most important allies, setting an example for the many others who joined in later,” explained Nuria El Khadir, director of CBD-Hábitat, in her speech at the ceremony after collecting the award in the Biodiversity Conservation in Spain category.

The foundation’s multidisciplinary team, made up of biologists, forestry engineers and other countryside experts, works in situ on the estates covered by stewardship agreements to tackle the multiple threats confronting endangered wildlife. They are currently monitoring 548 lynxes by means of camera traps and radio collars across Jaén, Extremadura, Toledo and Ciudad Real, contributing to a population growth that has seen the feline’s numbers increase more than tenfold, from just 100 individuals to over 1,100, in the last two decades.

In the case of eagles and vultures, initiatives like the radio tagging of 88 raptors or the rescue and recovery of individual birds, along with the inventorying of potentially lethal black spots – such as poorly maintained power lines ­– have achieved substantial increases in population size: the number of imperial eagle pairs has jumped from 130 to 647, while the presence of cinereous vultures is up 30% on estates with stewardship agreements in place. Also, the resources deployed to conserve lynxes, eagles and vultures have indirectly aided other wildlife of the Mediterranean woodlands, given their status as “umbrella” species.

For all these reasons, the work of CBD-Hábitat can be considered a success story in biodiversity recovery in Spain. Its executive team, however, are well aware of the huge amount of work that still lies ahead: “In these times of runaway loss of global biodiversity,” said El Khadir, “we cannot stress enough the importance of public and private organizations waking up to the disruption being caused at ecosystem level, to the extent of jeopardizing the Earth’s living resources and even life itself.”

Worldwide Award for Biodiversity Conservation

A 12-country alliance in defense of the snow leopard

“The snow leopard is an astonishing animal, the product of millions of years of evolution that have equipped it to adapt to the harshest conditions of extreme cold, and to hunt its prey on the world’s highest peaks.” With these words, Charudutt Mishra, ecologist and Executive Director of the International Snow Leopard Trust, defines this majestic predator, which sits at the top of the food chain in its habitat and, as such, is considered key to preserving the health of the whole mountain ecosystem of the Himalayas and other great Asian ranges. The Worldwide Award for Biodiversity Conservation has gone to the trust for its extraordinary work in defense of this feline, driven to the brink by poaching, habitat fragmentation due to expanding infrastructure, and the impacts of climate change.

The snow leopard’s range sums two million square kilometers and extends across the territory of 12 Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). “The species is not just amazing in itself,” says Mishra, “but when you protect it you are also helping protect a whole ecosystem and its associated biodiversity.”

In the past ten years, the organization has helped put together an “intergovernmental alliance” promoting cooperation between NGOs and governments in the 12 countries where the snow leopard is present, in an effort to protect the species and its entire ecosystem. “Any solution we came up with had to be commensurate with the size of the problem,” explained the Executive Director of the International Snow Leopard Trust in his award acceptance speech. “That’s why we set out to create an intergovernmental alliance for the protection of the snow leopard. We wanted governments and industry to start taking its conservation as seriously as we felt it deserved.”

The project has already identified 24 protection areas (some 500,000 km2) covering 25% of the species’ habitat. And conservation measures are already being rolled out in a good part of this terrain (140,000 km2) with the involvement of the authorities in each participating country, along with the scientific community, non-governmental organizations, companies and local communities. Of their initiatives to date, Mishra highlights the anti-poaching patrols trained under this effort, made up of more than 400 forest rangers, and a collaborative venture between the region’s authorities and Interpol to set up a database on illegal wildlife trafficking that can help deal more effectively with the threat. “This program shows the magic of the snow leopard and of nature,” the head of the International Snow Leopard Trust said in closing. “It shows how nations can set aside their differences and come together to work for the benefit of nature and wildlife, and a better world.”

Award for Knowledge Dissemination and Communication: Clemente Álvarez

A byword for rigorous and innovative environmental reporting

For almost a quarter of a century, Clemente Álvarez has made it his job to get the environmental crisis into the headlines at the many media outlets where he has worked. Founder of five environment sections in Spanish newspapers and magazines, as well as international TV channels, broadcasters, his work is characterized by its stringent reliance on the best, most proven sources. As he puts it: “A fundamental part of environmental reporting is that each story must have its basis in science, in validated knowledge, regardless of the format, subject matter, channel or medium.”

Since 2020, Álvarez has been in charge of one of the most influential sections in the Spanish press: the Climate and Environment pages of national daily El País. But he has spent more than two decades opening new journalistic windows on climate change, the biodiversity crisis and other major environmental challenges in newspapers like La Razón, innovative digital media such as Soitu, the principal Hispanic TV channel in the United States, Univisión, or more personal projects like the magazine Ballena Blanca, of which he was a founder.

Throughout his career he has sought to bring home how global environmental degradation is hurting people in their daily lives. “I think it is vital to make the stories seem relevant to readers, because that gives them a way into the debate,” he relates. “Otherwise it can seem as if the problem is confined to distant jungles or exotic species that have nothing to do with you or your life.”

Innovation and even creative experimentation with new narrative formats is another hallmark of Álvarez’s journalism; one that has allowed him to take the environmental message to a wider public through disciplines like the comic, exhibitions or even theater. But whatever the format, his work has been unstinting in its attention to what he describes as an unprecedented emergency that we are all sleeping through. “I have always thought that journalism should be at the service of society,” he remarked at the ceremony after collecting his award. “So I believe all of us in this business have a responsibility towards the defense of the environment and the world we live in … As Gabriel García Márquez says, ‘ethics and journalism are as essentially a part of each other as the buzz and the horsefly’. For ethical reasons, we have to spread the alarm voiced by scientists and warn of the dangers, even if it forces us to rethink our way of life.”

About the BBVA Foundation and the Biodiversity Conservation Awards

For more than twenty years now, the BBVA Foundation has lent its support to knowledge generation in ecology and conservation biology, conservationist projects based on scientific evidence, and the mobilizing of social awareness around this central challenge of our time.

Over their first 17 editions, the Biodiversity Conservation Awards have found their way to a diverse set of organizations that have taken effective steps to protect nature, from major ecologist and naturalist organizations like WWF and SEO/Birdlife to local associations concerned with a single species like the bearded vulture or Cantabrian brown bear, or specializing in the preservation of ecosystems like wetlands or the Mar Menor, as well as public agencies undertaking vital tasks for the protection of nature, among them environmental police force SEPRONA or the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office. At the same time, the Dissemination and Communication category has reflected the many and varied ways of amplifying the conservation message, with awards for media journalists and other communicators disseminating knowledge of the natural world through multiple channels and formats, from illustration and photography to audio recordings and the making of film documentaries.

Together, the BBVA Foundation’s biodiversity awardees form a mosaic that reflects how the global biodiversity crisis is a complex, many-faceted problem that demands an array of strategies acting on different levels and a firm, long-term commitment if we are to make any significant headway.

The awards for projects in Spain and worldwide each come with a cash prize of 250,000 euros, while the communication award is funded with 80,000 euros, giving  a combined monetary amount that is among the largest of any international prize program. The jury deciding the awards (see below) is made up of scientists working in the environment field, communicators, experts in areas like environmental law and policymaking, and representatives of conservationist NGOs who bring to the table complementary viewpoints on nature conservation.

The jury

The jury in this edition was chaired by Rafael Pardo, Director of the BBVA Foundation. Remaining members were Araceli Acosta, a journalist specializing in environmental issues, Alberto Aguirre de Cárcer, editor of daily newspaper La Verdad de Murcia, Laia Alegret, Senior Lecturer in Paleontology and IUCA researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Zaragoza, Juan Carlos del Olmo, General Secretary of WWF España, José Luis Gallego, head of the environment section of El Confidencial, Esteban Manrique Reol, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens (CSIC), Isabel Miranda, environmental editor with newspaper ABC, Carlos Montes del Olmo, Professor of Ecology and head of the Socio-Ecological Systems Laboratory at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Antonio Vercher, Chief Public Prosecutor for Environment and Land Planning in the Spanish Ministry of Justice, and Rafael Zardoya, Director of the Spanish Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC), with Laura Poderoso, Deputy Director of the BBVA Foundation, acted as technical secretary.