8 Oct 2020

Double win for our Conservation Leadership alumni in Marsh Awards

We are delighted to announce that this year, two of the prestigious Marsh Awards have been given to alumni of our Conservation Leadership Programme. Hear from Dr Ravinder Kaur and Natia Javakhishvili as they share their remarkable stories and describe what winning a Marsh Award means to them.

Dr Ravinder Kaur, one of this year's 2020 Marsh Award winners © Sanjitpaal Singh/jitspics.com
Dr Ravinder Kaur, one of this year's 2020 Marsh Award winners © Sanjitpaal Singh/jitspics.com
By Kate Tointon

Every year, the Marsh Christian Trust presents awards to individuals or organisations that go above and beyond in effort to make a difference for social, cultural and environmental causes. In partnership with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the Trust selected Dr Ravinder Kaur for the 2020 Marsh Award for Terrestrial Conservation Leadership and Natia Javakhishvili for the 2020 Marsh Award for Early Career Conservation for their outstanding contributions to conservation.

Both Ravinder and Natia, who are being celebrated for their extraordinary efforts in conserving Bornean hornbills in Malaysia and Eastern Imperial Eagles in Georgia (respectively), are alumni of our Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP)  which we run in partnership with FFI and Wildlife Conservation Society.

"The award will give our project much-needed exposure." Ravinder Kaur

The 2020 Marsh Award for Terrestrial Conservation Leadership (worth GBP 4,000) was awarded to Dr Ravinder Kaur for her “significant contribution to sustainable biodiversity at a local level.”

When Henry Rees, CLP Programme Officer at FFI, told Ravinder about the good news, she couldn’t believe it at first. “I had been reluctant to be nominated because I thought I had no chance, so I was completely shocked to hear I had won it!” she said.

Ravinder runs a project to conserve threatened hornbills in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Borneo, Malaysia, through her own social enterprise, Gaia (in partnership with local NGO, HUTAN/KOCP).

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Unfortunately, the project has been grounded during lockdown, with most of their donors unable to offer funds due to the pandemic. “The Marsh Award came at the right time—it has definitely lifted my spirits. By winning it, I hope our project receives more exposure and we get to connect with future long-term funders to help keep it going strong,” said Ravinder.

The project certainly deserves all the support it can get, considering its track record of success. In 2013, HUTAN/KOCP and its partners (Chester Zoo, Beauval Zoo, Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department) started installing artificial nest boxes to provide vital nesting sites for the hornbills of Kinabatangan. The boxes were visited by three hornbill species and, eventually, in 2017, the team recorded the first-ever successful fledging of a wild Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros chick from an artificial nest box.

After joining the HUTAN/KOCP initiative in 2014, Ravinder went on to win a CLP Future Conservationist Award in 2017 to further improve breeding opportunities for Kinabatangan hornbills. Working with a local team, she designed a new ‘phase 2’ set of artificial nest boxes based on her PhD research findings about the internal temperature and humidity fluctuations of hornbill nest cavities. She also worked with HUTAN/KOCP to restore six abandoned tree cavities that were eventually used by Oriental Pied Hornbills Anthracoceros albirostris to produce nine chicks.

CLP’s Executive Manager, Stuart Paterson, was delighted to hear the news about Ravinder’s 2020 Marsh Award. “Alongside a committed local team, Ravin’s dedication and determination to monitor nesting sites and boost nesting success is making a huge difference to the conservation of these amazing birds,” he said.

Ravin tells us that the ‘phase 2’ nest boxes have now started attracting a new species, the Endangered Wrinkled Hornbill Rhabdotorrhinus corrugatus, with a female filmed exploring one of the boxes this year.

2017 saw the first ever fledging of a Rhinoceros Hornbill chick from an artificial nestbox © Sanjitpaal Singh/ jitspics.com

Now widely considered to be an expert in her field, Ravinder is a member of the Helmeted Hornbill Working Group (a subgroup of the IUCN SSC Hornbill Specialist Group), which forms part of a ten-year strategy to save the Critically Endangered helmeted hornbill Rhinoplax vigil. Looking ahead, Ravinder aims to improve nesting opportunities for hornbills throughout Malaysia and help re-wild fragments of the degraded Kinabatangan forests to further secure the future of these enthralling birds.

Watch this video to find out more about Kinabatangan hornbills and why they so desperately need artificial nest boxes.

"It has helped me realise people believe in me." Natia Javakhishvili

Natia Javakhishvili’s 2020 Marsh Award for Early Career Conservation (worth GBP 2,000) celebrates Natia as “a young conservationist who has achieved stunning success since beginning her conservation career”.

Natia was pleasantly surprised when she first heard about her nomination for a Marsh Award. “When you work in conservation, you often face so much resistance and problems that you often forget to even acknowledge your own successes,” she said. “For me, winning the Marsh Award came with another reward: the realization that other people believe in me."

Back in 2015, Natia won a CLP Future Conservationist Award to conserve Vulnerable Eastern Imperial Eagles Aquila heliaca in the steppes of eastern Georgia, which are important breeding and wintering sites for the species. By tracking juveniles using satellite telemetry and GPS loggers, Natia and her team showed that the eagles were mainly threatened by nest destruction, poaching and pylon electrocution. Indeed, over the course of three years, 80% of the tagged juveniles were killed due to these causes.

Natia tags the eagles with GPS transmitters to investigate their threats © Zura Javakhishvili

Off the back of her CLP project, Natia spearheaded a major campaign to raise public support and successfully lobbied for electricity providers in Georgia to be held accountable for destroying eagle nests. And in 2017, Natia and her team won a landscape restoration grant under the Endangered Landscapes Programme, enabling them to restore critical habitat not only for eagles but for other important species in the area.

Henry Rees, CLP Programme Officer, describes Natia as a true role model for future conservationists. “Not only will this award provide Natia with the recognition she deserves, but it will support her in growing her vital work and help her continue to have an impact throughout Georgia,” he said.

The award recognises Natia’s remarkable successes – not just in her conservation projects, but also in her career. After starting out as a volunteer for SABUKO (BirdLife Partner in Georgia) in 2014, Natia was appointed CEO only three years later. And in 2016-2017, she headed up the Department of Education at the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Nature Resources of Georgia.

Under Natia’s leadership, SABUKO has worked alongside four government departments to become a major player in shaping the nature of conservation policy in Georgia. She is also credited for building the first volunteer network for nature protection in the country.

In the future, Natia hopes to bring greater media attention to conservation in Georgia and neighbouring countries, while working with the national government to develop a species action plan for the imperial eagle and build strong biodiversity laws.

Watch this video to find out more about the SABUKO eastern imperial eagle project.