Nature heroes recognised for lifelong dedication to wildlife and wild places

Two stalwarts of UK nature conservation have received prestigious awards for their dedication to wildlife over almost a century.

Rosemary Parslow, a volunteer for over 60 years with the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and Dr Rob Stoneman, director of landscape recovery at The Wildlife Trusts, were both awarded The Christopher Cadbury Medal at The Wildlife Trusts’ Annual General Meeting on 23rd November 2023.

Rosemary has played a leading role in documenting the natural history on the Isles of Scilly, an area which she fell in love with more than sixty years ago. Her career spanned working with the Natural History Museum, Nature Conservancy Council, English Nature and various Wildlife Trusts, while she has authored many papers, articles and books about British wildlife.

Rosemary is fascinated by seabirds, especially storm petrels and Manx shearwaters, and used to stay overnight on tiny islands to ring the birds. One of her favorite memories was her quest to find the Least Adder’s-tongue fern, a primitive plant that is only 2cm tall. It appears in winter so Rosemary would spend Christmases on the islands to look for it; she was eventually rewarded by its discovery on St Agnes. Now 87, Rosemary continues using her knowledge and experience by helping to map the coasts and heaths of the islands to work out where best to apply conservation efforts.

Dr Rob Stoneman is one of the country’s top nature recovery experts and, for over 30 years, has led major rewilding schemes across the UK and Europe. This includes setting up the IUCN peatland programme which is driving large scale action to restore peatlands, leading bison reintroduction to the Carpathian Mountains, and this year he set up the Atlantic Rainforest Programme with £38 million from Aviva. He has worked for Scottish Wildlife Trust, Sheffield Wildlife Trust, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, as well as Rewilding Europe.

Rob’s career has had a few ups and downs. The first time he advised a group on peat bog restoration he suggested they used marine ply to block ditches on the remote Flanders Moss in Scotland. The team were piling the boards into the peat using a heavy mallet. Rob offered a go, swung the mallet behind his head, only to end up flat on his back in the bog with the mallet a long way from where it was meant to be. Fortunately, only his clothes – and his pride – suffered.

Rosemary Parslow, says:
“Scilly is a magical place and being there has given me so many memories. There are over 100 islands and I’m lucky to have landed on many of them, finding each as fascinating as the next. Wildlife on islands is limited by its surroundings and resources, so plants and animals adapt in different ways. As a naturalist, concentrating on smaller areas means you really get into depth about the wildlife there. My jobs and hobbies overlapped and that means I’ve enjoyed my life greatly. With nature, the more you learn, the less you know. It’s been an endless journey of discovery, and I’m just sorry I don’t have another lifetime to do it all again.”

Dr Rob Stoneman, says:
“It’s an honour and a privilege to be given an award for doing something I love. My life and my career have revolved around nature, and I find great joy in helping to create a wilder future. There are so many incredible stories over the years, from bison and beavers to helping Wildlife Trusts transform disused areas of land into humming havens for wildlife. Yet in some respects, it’s bittersweet. For all the great projects I’ve been involved in, there have been more challenges placed upon wildlife in my lifetime than perhaps at any other moment in human history. I’m an optimist and believe we can reverse wildlife declines, but we need to pull out all the stops to make that dream a reality. Nature is brilliant at adapting to change, but we must also give it a helping hand.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“Rosemary and Rob have played monumental roles in UK nature conservation over many decades, and I’m delighted both are being recognised for their endeavours. It’s not always easy working to help wildlife and, for every success, there are more challenges ahead. The fact Rosemary is still helping wildlife on Scilly in her late eighties is a testament to her passion, determination, and dedication to nature. Rob continues to play a leading role in driving forward The Wildlife Trusts, helping us to create and expand nature reserves, and establishing transformational nature recovery programmes that give me hope for the future. Many congratulations to them both.”

The Christopher Cadbury Medal was instituted in recognition of the outstanding contribution to nature conservation and The Wildlife Trusts by the late Mr. J. Christopher Cadbury CBE MA (President of The Wildlife Trusts 1962-1988).

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