Mary Colwell is the Founder and Director of Curlew Action. She has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the plight of the Curlew. For eleven years, she spearheaded the campaign for a GCSE in Natural History, which was confirmed earlier this year and will be in schools from September 2025. The team at Curlew Action is incredibly proud of Mary and everything she has achieved. We are delighted that she was awarded the RSPB's most prestigious award.
Below is Mary's acceptance speech.
"Thank you very much indeed for this medal, it is such an honour from one of the greatest conservation organisations in the world. I am aware of the giants who have received it in the past and feel very humbled.
I am particularly touched by the recognition of bringing people together. Outreach and engagement are hugely important to me, I don’t believe we will save nature from the onslaught it faces unless everyone pulls together. We all have to want this – it is too important – nature deserves that we be our best and find ways to work together.
This is easy to say, but not always simple to do. Collaboration is always better than division, but it is often a difficult path to tread. We are a varied bunch and there are numerous ideas out there about the best way to do things, and there are different visions about the kind of world we could live in. But unless we find the common threads that bind us, not the divisions that keep us apart - unless there is mutual respect - we won’t develop those creative ideas that keep everything moving towards a shared goal, a diverse, thriving planet where all of life flourishes.
The pressures on nature are huge, and we need short, medium and long-term strategies to tackle them. There are immediate conservation actions, such as protecting nests or planting wildlife gardens for example. There are the medium-term – restoring habitats like meadows, wetlands, farmland, saltmarsh... and the big topical one at the moment - encouraging the right tree in the right place. But there is also the long game – the large-scale societal changes that have to happen if any of these initiatives are to bed-in and become normalised. And this is why I have been so passionate about nature education. It is vital we have a nature-literate society where people are not only enchanted by nature, but they are also informed.
Imagine a world where people can name, record and monitor the wildlife around them, and have a meaningful relationship with it. Imagine a society which understands the issues that threaten the natural world and then uses that knowledge to make wise decisions. We’d be in a different place.
Successfully campaigning for a GCSE in Natural History was, and still is, a long journey with many twists and turns, ups and downs. What seem like insurmountable problems have to somehow be conquered. But whether it is for education or curlews, I like to think of working for nature as being like a river on a long journey to the sea. Sometimes the going is good and everything flows. Then suddenly a large boulder lands in your path – a huge barrier. It can be daunting and can stop you in your tracks. But water has a knack of finding a way – go round the sides, over the top, slip underneath, and slowly erode the rock away. Suddenly, you are on your way again.
In a talk recently, a young woman just setting out on a career in conservation asked me what advice I had for her, what have I learned? I can sum it up in a few sentences.
- Don’t assume you are always right.
- Listen as much as tell.
- Never, assume it will be easy, and be very grateful for every success, no matter how small.
- Keep that inner fire burning bright, no matter who or what is trying to put it out.
- Keep believing in your gut instinct, keep going and don’t give in.
- Be a poet as well as a scientist.
- Most importantly, keep loving this planet. There is a lot of untapped love and passion in the world, people waiting to be inspired to join the fight – be the key that unlocks that door.
- Love never comes alone, it always requires some self-sacrifice, commitment and grit. But loving and conserving the natural world is a journey that is worth every step.
Thank you again for this medal, it’s wonderful to have it."
For more information about Mary's medal, see the RSPB's website.