Roy Dennis receives RSPB’s most prestigious award

Roy Dennis MBE – ‘the man who brought the white-tailed sea eagles back to England’ – received the RSPB’s most prestigious award at the charity’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Saturday 16 October.

Leading conservationist, Roy, 81, has devoted his whole life to protecting and enhancing wildlife. His love of birds began as a child in the 1940s exploring around his home in the New Forest. Little did he know then that one day, in his lifetime, the south coast of England would once again see white-tailed sea eagles soaring over the Solent. And that he would be the man that brought them back.

After school, Roy worked at Lundy and Fair Isle Bird Observatories (FIBO) where he met his mentor George Waterston who would go on to be the first Director of the RSPB in Scotland. In 1968, they pioneered the first trial reintroduction of sea eagles on Fair Isle. This paved the way for Roy to carry out many more translocation and ecological restoration projects which continue to this day. 

From 1963 to 1970 he directed FIBO before chairing the Trust and is now its President. Roy served the RSPB as its Highland Officer from 1970 to 1990 where he oversaw the management of iconic nature reserves like Loch Garten, protected nesting ospreys and golden eagles from egg thieves, and represented the charity in this key area for UK nature at a critical time in the RSPB’s history. 

Roy Dennis(left) and George Waterston (right) with a recently arrived juvenile White-tailed Eagle to be released as part of a reintroduction attempt, Fair Isle, Scotland, 1968

Roy became an independent wildlife consultant in 1990 and formed the ‘Highland Foundation for Wildlife’, now the ‘Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation’, in 1995. The success and range of projects undertaken by him since then has been phenomenal.

He received an MBE in 1992 for ‘services to nature conservation’; in 2004 he received the RSPB Scotland ‘Golden Eagle Award’ as the ‘person who has done most for nature conservation in Scotland in the last 100 years’. As a skilled communicator, he is the author of several landmark, inspirational books and is a regular on TV and radio.

Roy Dennis MBE expressed his great appreciation of the honour accorded to him. He said: “I am honoured to receive the RSPB Medal.  My lifetime in conservation has been wonderfully rewarding, from the first pair of ospreys with the RSPB at Loch Garten to the restoration of red kites to England and Scotland and sea eagles to the Isle of Wight.  In my middle years with the RSPB, we faced tough battles over agricultural intensification, blanket forestry, and North Sea oil, but I always refused to give up. Now, I’m encouraged to see great steps forward in ecological restoration but at this time of global crisis, it’s for the young to lead the way and be the ones who refuse to give up.”

Roy releasing an Osprey he had just satellite-tagged in 2017

Kevin Cox, RSPB Chair of Council, said: “We are delighted to honour Roy with the RSPB Medal. His partnership working, stamina and not letting obstacles stand in his way have achieved great things for UK wildlife and we’re pleased he can add the RSPB Medal to his already long list of awards and accolades.

“The boy from Hampshire who raised a brood of shelduck and collected newts and slow worms continues to drive forward for birds and wildlife at home and abroad. When we next see a red kite, osprey or sea eagle gracing our UK skies, we know who to thank.

“The nature and climate emergency is the biggest threat in our lifetime. If we do not act soon and fast some of the wildlife we see today could be lost for good. Roy and his amazing achievements should be an inspiration to us all.”

The RSPB Medal is the charity’s most prestigious award, presented at the AGM each year. It is awarded in recognition of major achievement in the cause of nature conservation.

RSPB Council, its Executive Board and people across the RSPB were asked to nominate recipients and the shortlist was compiled from these nominations.  

Previous RSPB Medal winners include Caroline Lucas MP (2018), Stanley Johnson (2015), HRH The Prince of Wales (2010) and Sir David Attenborough (2000).

In 2012 there was a very unusual winner; the entire community of Tristan da Cunha were awarded the Medal for their efforts when the ship MS Oliva ran aground at Nightingale Island, 30km from Tristan da Cunha, spilling 1,500 tonnes of oil into the sea and threatening globally endangered species, including two-thirds of the world’s population of rockhopper penguins.

Roy with (l-r) Steve Egerton-Read, Tim Mackrill and Ian Perks and one of the young White-tailed Eagles released on the Isle of Wight in 2019