Our annual Nature of Scotland Awards recognising Scotland's nature heroes took place this week. RSPB Scotland's Joanne Simpson tells us more about the amazing people and projects who took home awards on the night.

And the Nature of Scotland 2019 award winners are...

Recognising the people, projects and organisations dedicated to protecting our precious natural heritage, the eighth annual Nature of Scotland Awards organised by RSPB Scotland and co-sponsored by Scottish Natural Heritage celebrated some of the countries most incredible nature heroes.

Earlier this week, at the Sheraton Grand Hotel, eleven winners were announced after another record-breaking year of nominations.

Image of tables set up for dinner with nature of scotland logo projected on screen
The calm before the (awesome) storm... Credit: Simon Williams Photography

Hosted by wildlife camera-man and TV presenter Gordon Buchanan and BBC TV and radio presenter Euan McIlwraith, this year’s awards brought over 350 guests together to celebrate nominees across nine award categories including the new Conservation Science Award and, in anticipation of the upcoming Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, the Coasts and Waters Award.

The winner of the Coasts and Waters Award was Seasearch, a partnership project involving coordinators training citizen scientist drivers to identify underwater habitats worthy of protection. Seasearch are helping to paint as complete a picture as possible of seabed life around the UK and Ireland and have generated a total of 16,274 individual taxon records from the most difficult to survey Scottish habitat. How amazing is that? Having just celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2018 and identifying Loch Carron as in need of protection this year, it has been a busy year for Seasearch who are going from strength to strength.

people pose with trophy and certificate on stage
Seasearch receive their award. Credit: Simon Williams Photography

The Conservation Science Award went to the Changing Oceans group at the University of Edinburgh and their research on understanding and managing Scottish cold-water coral reefs and deep-sea habitats. This research highlights the importance of Scottish deep-sea habitats and the biodiversity that they support and how policy makers must be aware of this in order to conserve these vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Comrie Croft were the winners of the SNH Business Award. Created in response to rural decline, the croft aims to benefit both people and nature. A community of nature-based enterprises ranging from vegetable and flower farms and a wedding venue, to eco-camping and a café, this is a prime example of a business going the extra mile to incorporate nature friendly aspects to their business, even encouraging red squirrels to the land where they are now spotted regularly for the first time in eleven years.

7 people pose with the trophy and certificate on stage
Comrie Croft receive their award. Credit: Simon Williams Photography

The Community Initiative Award was won by Back from the Brink – Saving the Small Blue. Coastal communities in Angus have worked together since 2012 to understand and halt the decline of the small blue butterfly, and this engaging project perfectly demonstrates how communities working together may provide a future to a species on the brink.

Leading the way in nature friendly farming, Lynbreck Croft took home the trophy for the Food and Farming Award. Within just three years, Lynbreck Croft has turned agriculture on its head and has created a hub for people, animals and wildlife without compromising on biodiversity or welfare, proving that these two things are dependant on each other.

Lynbreck Croft accept their award. Credit: Simon Williams Photography

TCV Natural Talent Programme were the winners of the Innovation Award. Starting in 2006, the programme fills an identified ecological skills gap across Scotland and 65 trainees so far have completed the programme with 98% going on to further employment or education within the conservation sector. Creating a new wave of botanist, entomologists, mycologists and more, the programme has brought 25 science partners together working across Scotland and is engaging the public to raise awareness of lesser known species and habitats.

Political Advocate of the Year was awarded to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham MSP. Roseanna has been a crucial figure in the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland after a 400 year absence and has been involved since the first beaver release in 2009. She has tirelessly campaigned for the species despite taking on different roles in the Government. Roseanna added the European beaver to the list of European Protected Species of Animals under Scottish Law and has been a key figure in working with stakeholders to reach broad agreement on the mitigation framework.

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Holly Gillibrand, who received a highly commended award in the Political Advocate of the Year category, poses with their certificate. Credit: Simon Williams Photography

The RSPB Scotland Species Champion Award was awarded to two different winners this year (It's hard enough to choose in all the other categories, so let us have this one!). The first was Stewart Taylor who has championed a huge range of overlooked species and has dedicated a lifetime to conserving wildlife in the Cairngorms National Park. As RSPB’s first Osprey Warden at Loch Garten, Stewart’s passion for Aspen was first highlighted following the Scottish Aspen conferences in 2001 and 2008 and he was a founding member of the Aspen Steering Group which formed in 2016. Stewart has made a huge contribution to aspen conservation and his work will enable the aspen conservation strategy to be taken forward.

The Scottish Beavers team accept their award. Credit: Simon Williams Photography

The second winner of the RSPB Species Champion Award was Scottish Beavers who have championed the return of beavers to Scotland for more than a decade. A long-standing partnership between the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Scottish Beavers pioneered the first ever reintroduction of a mammal to the UK. This trial was accompanied by dedicated hard work engaging with the local public and national stakeholders through the Scottish Beaver Forum and the team hope that the successful project will encourage others to think big and champion other species across the UK.

The Youth and Education Award went to Sunnyside Primary who have demonstrated how small ripples bring about tides of change. After changing their curriculum focus in 2014 after Primary 7 pupils wished to leave conservation projects to inspire other pupils, this school has gone on to inspire other children across Scotland. The ethos at Sunnyside is that it doesn’t matter where you are from, what age you are or your personal circumstances, we are all custodians of nature and we all have a responsibility to protect it.

6 people pose with trophy and certificate on stage
Representatives from Sunnyside Primary pose with their award alongside presenters Gordon Buchanan and Euan McIlwraith. Credit: Simon Williams Photography

Finally, a special mention must go to the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award – Simon Pepper OBE. Simon was founder Director of WWF Scotland, a post he held from 1985 to 2005.  Initially he was the sole employee, but such was his impact that he developed the charity into an environmental powerhouse.  Indeed, during his tenure he was instrumental in establishing the Millennium Forest for Scotland, and secured almost £30 million for its creation. 

Simon relished his leadership of WWF Scotland, and his charismatic influence resulted in the formation of Scottish Environment LINK – a fantastically effective alliance of what is now 35 environmental organisations.

Appointed an OBE for services to sustainable development in 2000, Simon served on the boards of many government bodies, including Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Deer Commission for Scotland. 

Simon was a champion for nature, whose campaigning personality was characterised by intelligent charm, humorous warmth, determination and understated leadership, Simon’s legacy is rooted in the newly emerging environmentalism of Scotland.

audience looking at stage where image of Simon Pepper is on projectorCredit: Simon Williams Photography

It was an absolute privilege to celebrate all these amazing people doing incredible things to protect and restore our nature, ensuring that Scotland's wildlife and environment can thrive. Everyone who was nominated should be incredibly proud of what they've achieved and the difference they make. We are delighted to have you all as part of the team fighting for our nature.

The awards would not be possible without the incredible support of our generous sponsors – Scottish Natural Heritage, GreenPower, The James Hutton Institute, Balfour Beatty, Scottish Water, Scottish Power, The Ardmore, SAGES, The Botanist, Turcan Connell and the National Trust for Scotland.

The full list of winning people, projects and organisations can be found at rspb.org.uk/natureofscotland.