A few weeks ago I was contacted by Wu Linshu, a journalist from 新京报 (Beijing News), asking if I was free on Friday 8th January. With a few new cases of COVID-19 in my district and restrictions tightening again, there was more than a fair chance I’d be in Beijing on that day. Linshu went on to say that I had been nominated for an award in recognition of “services to the environment” as part of the annual “citizen awards” and that the ceremony would take place on 8th.
Fast forward to 8th January and I made my way to the venue, the Beijing News Broadcasting House close to Yonganli in the city centre. It was a glitzy affair, attended by senior government officials, media and, of course, the nominees, and was live-streamed to millions. I had been asked to prepare a five-minute presentation about “my story” or anything I wanted to say. I decided to use my time to speak about the biodiversity crisis, how cities have a big role to play and what we can all do to help, giving the example of Beijing student “Swift Ambassadors” making and erecting nest boxes and writing to the head of the most famous building company in China to encourage them to make new buildings more friendly for swifts.
I was allocated the fourth slot out of ten and on hearing the others, I was humbled to be in their presence. There was a lady from Yanqing who has been collecting plastic waste for 20 years, and putting together local teams to do likewise, a lady with breast cancer who had set up a dance team for fellow sufferers to raise awareness, a man who worked with young people in prison to help prepare them for life on release, another man who had put his life in danger to pull people from a burning vehicle and a young guy who set up a baseball team for disadvantaged children, including minority groups in Sichuan .. I felt a little out of place!
After the presentations and introductions of the other nominees, a few of us were called up to receive awards. I was honoured to be presented a ‘gold award’, one of only 15 each year. This was the 14th annual “Beijing Citizen” awards ceremony and I understand I am the first foreigner to be recognised. A great honour and truly humbling. I know that only a fraction of people who are doing amazing things ever receive recognition, but the most important thing for me is that it was a wonderful platform to reach more people about biodiversity, to celebrate the capital’s wildlife and, hopefully, inspire a few more people to make a difference.
Huge thanks to Wu Linshu for inviting me and for her help in preparing for the event, and to my good friend, Luo Peng, for helping with my Chinese on the day.