Prize awarded for protecting South Africa’s threatened grassland biodiversity 

London, UK: 17 May 2017 – HRH The Princess Royal will tomorrow present a Whitley Award, a prestigious international nature conservation prize worth £35,000 in project funding, to Ian Little at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, in honour of his work to protect South Africa’s threatened grasslands.

Demand for fresh water is expected to outstrip supply in South Africa by 2025. The Eastern Great Escarpment of South Africa provides catchment services for three of the country’s largest rivers, making it a vital source of water for cities such as Durban and Johannesburg in one of the world’s most arid nations. As the world’s third most biodiverse country, these grasslands support a plethora of plants and animals found nowhere else, including golden moles and the sungazer lizard.  Despite their importance, less than 3% of grasslands in South Africa are protected. Intensive livestock farming, coal mining and gas exploration are inflicting untold damage – with fracking now an imminent threat.

Ian Little of the Endangered Wildlife Trust works with farmers to champion conservation of grassland habitat. Working with farmers and tribal leaders, Ian is building capacity for sustainable farming and introducing improved management practices, such as less intensive grazing and burning regimes to decrease pressure on grasslands and boost productivity. He has already secured 60,000 hectares of grassland for conservation purposes; a figure Ian plans to increase with his Whitley Award by creating a corridor of legally protected areas linking with others along the escarpment. In doing so he will safeguard these grasslands and the important source of freshwater they provide.

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “WFN focus on conservation success stories which give us a reason for optimism. The Awards Ceremony is about recognising progress – winning those small battles which cumulatively equate to change at the national level. In addition to the financial benefit of winning an Award, winners receive professional communications training to turn scientists into ambassadors, so they are able to communicate effectively with the public and inform change at the political level.”

Ian is one of six individuals to have been awarded a share of the prize money worth £210,000, winning the Whitley Award donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Sir David Attenborough, a Trustee of the Whitley Fund for Nature, added: “It is now more important than ever to invest in those working to protect our planet. The Whitley Fund for Nature is at the forefront of supporting these heroic individuals.”