Espeletia praesidentis named in honour of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos > About our organisation > Press and media > Press releases > Press release: Colombian President awarded Kew International Medal for work protecting biodiversity

Press release: Colombian President awarded Kew International Medal for work protecting biodiversity

Award and lecture on Friday, November 10th, 2017 from 10:00-13:00 (GMT) - Institution of Civil Engineers, One Great George Street, SW1P 3AE London

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is proud to announce the recipient of this year’s Kew International Medal is the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón.  President Santos is the first head of state to receive this honour and has been selected for his ideology, foresight and work to protect the biodiversity of Colombia. The medal is awarded to individuals for distinguished, internationally-recognised work aligned with the mission of RBG Kew.

Since taking office in 2010, President Santos has emphasised two main goals, “peace and protecting Colombia’s biodiversity” and it is for his achievements on the latter that he is being honoured.

On the occasion of the presentation of this award in London, President Santos will deliver a speech on his government’s conservation pledges and on the Colombia Bio programme, among other exciting initiatives.

In selecting President Santos, Richard Deverell, Director of RBG Kew said, 

“Colombia is a mega diverse country with much of its biodiversity still undiscovered or unrecorded because of the armed conflict experienced for over a half century. When President Santos led the signing of a peace treaty with FARC guerrilla fighters he heralded a new era, opening the country to international collaboration in biodiversity research.  His championing of biodiversity is an example to other leaders around the world as he expertly navigates the variables of climate change, food security, deforestation and peace building, alongside the recovery of large territories which for years could not be explored.  Being committed to environmental sustainability in this context is something we wanted to acknowledge with this award.”

Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world with a significant proportion of its fauna and flora yet to be discovered and studied.  President Santos recognised this and has pledged that his government will have doubled the area under national environmental protection from 13 million hectares, at the beginning of his government, to 28.4 million hectares in 2018, to preserve this unique land and its ecosystems.

President Santos also instructed Colciencias (Colombia’s national agency for science and technology) to establish a Colombia Bio programme. This ambitious programme’s primary aim is: “to know, value, conserve and sustainably use biodiversity in the country, contributing to sustainable and socially inclusive development”.  This important work will assist in informing conservation policy, highlighting native plant species with economic potential, and in regulating the fight against illegal plant trade.

RBG Kew and Colombia are working together on helping to identify, protect and promote the country’s plant and fungal diversity through Colombia Bio.  This includes several large joint field expeditions to discover, identify and name plants and fungi, as well as exploring their potential for sustainable use to benefit local livelihoods and the economy.  The research aims to help the government achieve in situ conservation objectives as well as supporting ex situ conservation in seed banks; an area in which Kew has significant experience via its Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. 

Earlier this year, RBG Kew announced that a new plant species from North-eastern Colombia had been discovered by a Kew botanist and named Espeletia praesidentis, in honour of efforts made by President Santos to build peace.


To find out more please contact the Kew Press Office on 020 8332 5607 or email

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Notes to Editors

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst, attract over 1.5 million visits every year.

The Kew International Medal was first established in 1992 by the Board of Trustees and is given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to science and conservation.  Previous award winners include Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury (1994); Sir David Attenborough (1996); Stella Ross-Craig (1999); Margaret Stones (2000); Mary Grieson (2003); Peter H. Raven (2009); Jared Diamond (2012); E. O. Wilson (2014); Dr Kiat W. Tan (2015); Professor Sebsebe Demissew (2016).