The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) presented Stuart with the award at the House of Lords today and in doing so will be honouring his dedication to researching and conserving the elusive pine marten.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust conservationist recognised for wildlife work
Stuart, who works around the county from his office base at Shropshire Wildlife Trust in Shrewsbury, has had a lifelong interest in wildlife but became particularly fascinated by pine martens after a fleeting sighting of one while on a family holiday to the Cairngorms in Scotland aged nine.
His interest in the animal continued through to adulthood and despite having worked on exciting wildlife conservation projects overseas, including mountain lions in California and marsupials in Australia, he has always been drawn back to the UK and the protection of native British wildlife.
After discovering that the pine marten was considered extinct in England for around a century due to lack of evidenced sightings, he began volunteering with the Shropshire Mammal Group in 2009 and started the first ever research survey in Shropshire for the rare mammal.
Spurred on by other researchers having discovered a small population of pine martens in Wales, he dedicated many hours to researching reported sightings and setting dozens of camera traps in a bid to validate the continued existence of the house cat-sized member of the stoat and weasel family.
Despite no hard evidence of any remaining population in England, his patience and hard work were rewarded four years ago when, after sifting through many witness records, finally one of the animals was caught on camera in the county and verified by Stuart as a pine marten.
During his day job Stuart continues to focus on conservation as a communications officer with the trust, where he is able to align some of this work with pine marten protection. He is also now volunteer chairman of Shropshire Mammal Group.
James Sawyer, UK Director of IFAW, said: “Stuart’s dogged determination to find and conserve the pine marten in Shropshire is outstanding and he is a great example of animal welfare in action. We hope his efforts will inspire the next generation of animal welfare and conservation campaigners. He is a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Conservation Award.”
An important element of Stuart’s work is awareness raising among members of the public and landowners and he also works to debunk some of the traditional myths which led to pine martens being persecuted as perceived pests to many types of livestock in the past.
Stuart said: “As a very young child I used to love all the David Attenborough wildlife shows filmed in Africa and elsewhere but really didn’t think we had any exciting wildlife in the UK. Spotting that first pine marten in Scotland just kicked off a massive interest in UK wildlife for me.
"Now we know we have pine martens, it is really important to keep raising awareness and educate the public, not just about pine martens and other wildlife but conservation as a whole.
“One of the reasons we lost most of our pine martens was due to the destruction of so much of our forest habitat. With the effects of climate change and the need to plant more trees to help the planet, a great way to motivate people in tree planting is to remind them of the importance of trees as habitat for animals such as the pine marten as well as the wider benefits for us all.”
Stuart will receive his award at IFAW’s prestigious Animal Action Awards event, presented by TV wildlife presenter Bill Oddie at the House of Lords on October 15.