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Top international prize awarded to British scientist


One of Britain’s leading environmental scientists has been awarded a top international prize for his work on the conservation of biodiversity.

The Japan Prize for Science and Technology, worth 50 million yen - approximately £260,000 - has been awarded to John Lawton, Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, whose entire career has been dedicated to the understanding of life on this planet.

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Professor Lawton said: ‘I am thrilled to receive this fantastic recognition. I have been lucky to have great opportunities to contribute to a subject I love, the biodiversity of our natural world, and I’ve worked with some outstanding colleagues on the way.’

The chief executive, who travels to Japan in April to receive the award, is a passionate natural historian and still works on major projects reaching international audiences. A paper co-written by Professor Lawton and published in Science last month received worldwide media attention. The paper provided the most compelling evidence to date that current extinction rates are approaching those of past mass extinctions of life on this planet.

Professor Lawton said: ‘Fossil records show five major extinctions. Current extinction rates are approaching these magnitudes. The difference is that this extinction is caused by one species - us.’

The former chairman of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has worked as a scientific advisor and presenter on two major BBC programmes: “The 300 Million Years War” in 1985 and “The State of the Planet” with David Attenborough in 2000.

Professor Lawton is currently a vice president of both the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology and a trustee of the WWF; all highly influential positions for his international work on the conservation of our biodiversity.

As the chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, one of the UK’s seven Research Councils, he uses a budget of around £300 million a year to fund and carry out impartial scientific research addressing key questions facing mankind such as global warming, biodiversity, renewable energy and sustainable economic development.

Professor Lawton’s colleague the chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Professor Julia Goodfellow, praised his achievements:
‘On behalf of the Chief Executives of all of the UK Research Councils and the AHRB, I warmly congratulate John for receiving this prestigious award. We are tremendously pleased that John is receiving the international recognition he deserves for the wonderful contribution he has made to biodiversity research, both in his own right as a first-rate scientist and now as Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council.’

The Japan Prize, in its twentieth year, is an international award given to people who have made original and outstanding achievements in science and technology and are recognised as having contributed to the peace and prosperity of mankind.

The award ceremony, held annually and the highlight of Japan Prize Week, is attended by the emperor and empress of Japan and the Japanese Prime Minister. There have been four previous British recipients including the inventor of the worldwide web Tim Berners-Lee and Dr Anne McClaren for her pioneering work with mammalian embryonic development.

Alongside Professor Lawton, a scientist from New Zealand and a team from Japan have been recognised for their contributions to science.

Dr Keith J Sainsbury from New Zealand has been awarded the Japan Prize for his work on seabed habitats. He demonstrated for the first time that fishing boats trawling the seabed can have a damaging effect on the biodiversity of the marine environment. His research has led to the introduction of restrictions on seabed trawling and the complete exclusion of fishing boats from some areas off the Australian coastline.

Two Japanese scientists, Dr Kenichi Honda and Dr Akira Fujushima have also been recognised for their pioneering work on artificially recreating photosynthesis – the conversion of solar light into chemical energy. Their paper, published in 1971, is considered a milestone in the field of chemical technology.

Owen Gaffney | alfa
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