Jana Bedek, a biologist and cave explorer from Croatia, has won one of the world’s top prizes for grassroots nature conservation, the Whitley Award, for her work to explore, study and raise public awareness of the wildlife-rich caverns, tunnels, rivers and lakes which lie beneath the Dinarides mountains.
Bedek, the president of the Croatian Bio-speleological Society (CBSS), received her prize from HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) at the Royal Geographical Society, London, during a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, hosted by The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) – the UK-based charity behind the international awards scheme.
The award includes a project grant of £30,000 - donated by The Shears Foundation, an engraved trophy, membership of the influential network of past Whitley Award winners, international recognition and professional development training.
It recognises Jana Bedek’s efforts to increase scientific and public knowledge of the rare and unusual underground habitats and species of the Dinaric Alps, and their economic potential, and her plans to expand the project to the other areas of karst found between Italy and Albania
The evening’s top honour - the £60,000 Whitley Gold Award – went to marine biologist Dr Rachel Graham, of Belize, for her work to protect Belize’s sharks and coastal biodiversity and so safeguard local livelihoods and Belize’s economically-important tourism industry.
In addition, Her Royal Highness presented other Whitley Awards worth £30,000 each to conservation leaders from Argentina, India, Indonesian Borneo, Russia and Uzbekistan.
Commenting on Jana Bedek’s success, Georgina Domberger, Director of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: "The aim of the Whitley Awards is to identify and applaud inspirational conservation leaders, and give them new funds and skills to enable them to make even greater use of their scientific expertise and local knowledge to deliver real and lasting benefits for people and wildlife and the places both share.
“In Jana’s case, the judges were particularly impressed by her courageous efforts to improve our understanding of this very special but highly hazardous subterranean world – a refuge for an extraordinary range of extraordinary creatures, some of them so rare they are found nowhere else on Earth.”
The ceremony at which Jana Bedek received her accolade was co-hosted by the author and broadcaster John McCarthy and witnessed by a 350-strong audience which included embassy officials, Whitley Fund for Nature donors, including HBSC and WWF-UK, and many leading environmentalists.
The Whitley Awards scheme is an annual competition, first held in 1994. In the 18 years since the scheme began, it has given grants worth more than £6m to support the work of inspirational conservation leaders in 70 countries and built a network of more than 120 Whitley alumni. To learn more about the charity, its donors and past winners, please see: www.whitleyaward.org.