Double presentation ceremony for the 15th and 16th editions
The BBVA Foundation Conservation Awards call for urgent measures to halt the global biodiversity crisis that threatens the future of the next generations
The worldwide biodiversity crisis is one of the greatest and most pressing global challenges of the 21st century, but there is still time to halt this severe process of environmental degradation that threatens the future of the next generations. This was one of the main messages issued by winners at the double ceremony of the 15th and 16th editions of the BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation, held in Madrid.
1 December, 2021
In the category of Biodiversity Conservation in Spain, the awards went to Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos (FCQ), in the 15th edition (decided in 2020), in recognition of its successful program to recover the seriously endangered bearded vulture, and to environmentalist association ADENEX in the 16th edition (decided in 2021), for its four decades of work to preserve Extremadura’s natural heritage.
The Worldwide Award went to the International Animal Rescue (IAR) Indonesia Foundation for its work on protecting the habitats of the orangutan and other unique species on the Island of Borneo, and the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for its contribution to conserving the Earth’s plant biodiversity.
Finally, in Knowledge Dissemination and Communication, the awardees were Antonio Cerrillo, for the excellence of his environmental reporting in the pages of daily newspaper La Vanguardia, and Fernando Valladares, a researcher with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), for his exceptional contribution to communicating the science behind today’s key environmental issues.
Agents who are “leading the change” away from “pathologies of anthropogenic origin”
The Director of the BBVA Foundation, Rafael Pardo, remarked that “pandemics such as SARS-CoV-2 have their ultimate cause in the zoonosis facilitated by humans’ unrelenting invasion and exploitation of the natural space of other species.” To avoid the risk of new pandemics, it is therefore “of imperative importance to respect and preserve ecosystems, and to change the dominant mode of removing animals from their habitats for the consumption and entertainment of human beings.”
“We have built a strongly articulated system, extending from our mode of production to consumption, urban planning and the occupation of space, food, transport, energy, tourism and leisure,” Rafael Pardo continued. “One of the assumptions underlying this system, rarely analyzed but merely taken for granted, has been that nature is inexhaustible, that progress invariably implies a growing domination of nature, and that science and, above all, technology will always find ways to repair the side effects of human intervention.”
This “mindset,” he warned, has led to “multiple pathologies of anthropogenic origin,” such as the “runaway loss of habitats and species” and “climate change with all its consequences,” and although some significant progress has been made in tackling these environmental challenges, “the overall balance is still clearly negative and increasingly alarming.”
In this context, he added, the good news is that “conservationist organizations, the scientific community and the broad community engaged in environmental communication are, without doubt, the three agents leading the change” towards overcoming the environmental crisis. And we can only express “our appreciation and gratitude for the talent, hard work and knowledge-led commitment of today’s awardees.”
A new award for contributions that invite us to “rethink human beings’ relationship with nature”
In his speech, the Director of the BBVA Foundation announced the creation of a new award “to complete this family of prizes devoted to the preservation of nature.” Its goal, he said, will be to accord global recognition to “broad-ranging conceptual contributions that lead the way in rethinking human beings’ relationship with nature, in facets ranging from the status and rights of animals to those of ecosystems and nature in its entirety.”
This new award, Rafael Pardo explained, will go to “contributions that, across a broad range of disciplines from philosophy and ethics, to history, social sciences and law, literary theory and art, propose innovative conceptual frameworks that complement and extend the achievements of science, striving to supplant the vision that has informed human interaction with the natural environment since the dawn of modernity and, in particular, in the first decades of the past century.”
The aim will be to recognize and give visibility to “thinkers who have made respect for and preservation of life in all its forms the core object of their work, replacing the narrative of domination, conquest and exploitation of nature with a biocentric vision.”
Two decades of engagement with protecting nature
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.
Established in 2004, the Biodiversity Conservation Awards carry a combined cash prize of 580,000 euros spread across three categories: Biodiversity Conservation in Spain (250,000 euros); the Worldwide Award (250,000 euros); and Knowledge Dissemination and Communication (80,000 euros). The jury deciding the awards is made up of scientific experts, communicators, and representatives of NGOs, who bring to the table complementary experiences and viewpoints on nature conservation.
Over their sixteen editions, the awards have found their way to a diverse set of groups and projects, from conservationist organizations concerned with a particular species, like the lynx or the Cantabrian brown bear, to programs to conserve extensive habitats such as wetlands, the south-east of Spain or the western reaches of the Iberian Peninsula, and even ways of life, like the transhumance of livestock, compatible with the sustainable use of resources. Other winners include public agencies that have shown an unwavering dedication to the task of protecting nature, among them environmental police force SEPRONA or the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office.
The Dissemination and Communication category has reflected the many and varied ways of amplifying the conservation message, with awards for written and audiovisual journalism, photojournalism, illustration and audio stories.
Biodiversity Conservation in Spain
Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos: “Recovering biodiversity means making progress in human rights”
The Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos (FCQ) takes the award for “recovering and conserving the Pyrenean region’s last remaining bearded vultures […] and its success in getting the species to breed again in areas like Picos de Europa, where it had become extinct over 50 years ago,” in the words of the jury’s citation.
The bearded vulture or lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) is the only scavenger to feed exclusively on carrion bones. In the course of the 20th century it disappeared from most of Europe’s mountain regions, surviving almost solely in the Pyrenees. Since 1995, FCQ experts have undertaken perilous climbing expeditions in the Pyrenees, weighed down with special incubators, to rescue endangered eggs, raising the chicks in captivity and eventually reintroducing them into the wild. Thanks to these efforts, Spain’s bearded vulture population has grown by over 200% in these 25 years.
FCQ’s president, Gerardo Báguena, remarked in his speech that the bearded vulture was the first species in Spain accorded legal protection, back in 1958. “We have progressed from a critical situation in the 1990s, with barely one hundred individuals left nationwide, to more than 1,200 today,” he adds. “And throughout this journey, the bearded vulture has been showing us why there is a global biodiversity crisis. Because investing in species conservation is not just about reviving populations, it is also about working to mitigate the climate crisis, and making progress in public health, employment, food security and human rights. That, in our view, is what recovering biodiversity is all about.”
ADENEX: “It is possible to live our lives without harming our magnificent biodiversity”
The Asociación para la Defensa de la Naturaleza y los Recursos de Extremadura (ADENEX), founded in 1978, is among the pioneers of nature conservation in Spain, hailed by the jury for “its work in defense of the Extremadura region’s natural heritage over a span of four decades.” ADENEX was instrumental in securing protected status for what is now Monfragüe National Park, and stands out for its “cross-cutting projects” that draw in broad sectors of society. The association also works to strengthen the emotional bond between human communities and their environment through voluntary work and environmental education.
As its president Jorge Vega made clear in his speech, “since the advent of democracy, Extremaduran society has had to choose between a purely economic and destructive development model and one that respects our natural resources. It has stood firm, using its main weapons – knowledge, intelligence and strategy – to convince those in power that it is possible to work, create businesses and, in sum, live our lives without harming our magnificent biodiversity. ADENEX took a stand against the machines in the late 1970s and stopped the destruction of Monfragüe, helping preserve what is today one of the most ornithologically diverse natural areas in Europe.”
Worldwide Award for Biodiversity Conservation
IAR Indonesia: “The future of the next generations is in our hands”
The International Animal Rescue (IAR) Foundation Indonesia, founded and led by Bilbao veterinarian Karmele Llano, is recognized for its conservationist work in Borneo’s Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, protecting the habitat of orangutans and other unique species. In its citation, the jury singled out the organization’s success in creating “long-term conservation strategies in an ecosystem beset by deforestation,” due to the advance of palm oil cultivation.
“In the last sixty years, we have lost over 60% of Borneo’s orangutan population,” said Llano during the ceremony. “The main reason is habitat loss and fragmentation, with up to 40%-50% of the island’s forests and natural spaces disappearing in just forty years. The forests of Borneo, among the world’s richest in biodiversity, sustain many different species […] To safeguard this habitat, and the orangutans, the foundation works with local communities, broadening their job opportunities and helping them create sustainable economic alternatives […] By improving local people’s quality of life we also gain protection for the environment, the forests, the orangutan and other wild species. Because it is not only the future of the orangutans, the forests and their biodiversity that is right now in our hands, but also the future of the coming generations.”
The Millennium Seed Bank: “Our actions over the next decade will be critical if we are to reverse environmental devastation”
The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) is a global seed bank run by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Wakehurst, United Kingdom), established in the year 2000 in response to the global crisis in plant biodiversity. Today, the bank holds 2.5 billion seeds from 190 countries, including Spain. Its efforts have already served to protect more than 46,000 species, equating to 16% of the world’s seed plants. Each partner seed bank keeps part of their collection in the country of origin and send samples to the MSB, where they are stored in refrigerated rooms at 20 below zero, providing a safety backup in case of need.
“Earth is the only planet in the universe we know for certain supports life”, said Elinor Bremen, Senior Research Leader of the Millennium Seed Bank Project. Yet life on Earth is in crisis. We are living through the climate emergency and an age of extinction. Our actions over the next decade will be critical if we are to reverse environmental devastation… With 2 in 5 plants currently threatened with extinction, seed banking has never had greater relevance or importance.”
Dissemination and communication
Antonio Cerrillo: “Journalists now have the added duty of laying bare, interpreting and refuting attempts at misinformation”
After more than thirty years writing in the La Vanguardia newspaper, Antonio Cerrillo can safely be called one of the pioneers of environmental reporting in Spain. In this time, he has covered biodiversity decline, climate change and the destruction of the ozone layer, as well as environmental problems that particularly affect Spain, like those related to water or waste management. It was he who broke the news in the press about the contamination of the Flix reservoir (River Ebro), prompting the launch of a plan to clean up the area with European funding.
“Good environmental journalism,” he said in his speech, “should be no different from good journalism, full stop. Environmental reporting has changed dramatically since I began. It has become more complex, dealing in more abundant and sophisticated subject matter. Hence the importance of having specialist journalists, and of companies getting behind this specialization. On top of our traditional trade, journalists now have the added duty of laying bare, interpreting and refuting the misinformation that is part of the new ecosystem of the Internet and social media. Our task will continue to be to inform, document, enlighten, raise awareness, analyze and interpret and, sometimes, to warn or denounce.”
Fernando Valladares: “Society is at a historic crossroads. We either stick with our current model or transform our relationship with the environment”
Fernando Valladares has been striving for some twenty years to “to transmit the scientific evidence on the global climate crisis and loss of biodiversity to society at large,” said the jury in its citation. A regular contributor to mainstream media, where he comments on the big environmental issues, he is also an active communicator on social media, posting daily updates via his own digital channels and social media accounts.
In his speech he described society as being “at a historic crossroads, where we opt either to stick with our current model for as long as we can – which science warns will only be for a few more years – or to transform our relationship with the environment. Awards like this, for which I am deeply grateful, acknowledge the importance of explaining what is happening, and the consequences of treating nature the way we do.”