2 March 2020

The Kew International Medal: Everything you need to know

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew annually awards the Kew International Medal to a distinguished individual. But what does our medal represent?

By Katie Avis-Riordan

Colombian plants

What is the Kew International Medal?

Our award is presented to one individual a year whose vital work is in line with Kew’s mission to ensure that plants and fungi are understood, valued and conserved.

First established in 1992, the prestigious medal acknowledges the winner’s globally recognised work which significantly adds to the knowledge and understanding of the world’s plants and fungi upon which human lives depend.

How is the medal winner chosen?

While anyone can submit a nominee, the recipient of the annual medal is selected by a panel comprising the Director of RBG Kew, Trustees and Executive Board Members, for their valuable work in science and conservation.

The panel uses the following set of criteria to select the winner, which the individual and their work must adhere to:

  • Building a world where plants and fungi are understood, valued and conserved – because our lives depend on them
  • Providing knowledge, inspiration and understanding of why plants and fungi matter to everyone
  • Helping to solve some of the critical challenges facing humanity including (but not limited to): biodiversity loss, climate change, food security, plant pathogens, fighting disease
  • Increasing public awareness of the threat to plant and fungal diversity

The 13th Kew International Medal winner

The 13th Kew International Medal has been awarded to Professor Sandra Díaz, a global leader in the areas of biodiversity, ecosystems and sustainability.

Professor Díaz has been given the award for her passion, dedication and outstanding research investigating plant diversity and the impact of climate change.

With this award, RBG Kew recognises her invaluable work into human dependency on biodiversity, which is helping to define nature’s contribution to people, transform land use around the world, influence policy and drive actions for environmentally sustainable development.

Professor Díaz’s work has also explored how the chemical and physical traits of plants – such as size, texture and nutrient content of leaves, wood density, palatability to herbivores, and canopy architecture – influence a plant’s response to environmental change and impact ecosystems.

Although biodiversity is often estimated by the number of species present, Professor Díaz has shown, critically, that the function and benefits of an ecosystem are more accurately predicted by the combination of organisms and the specific traits they bring to the table.

One of the world’s most cited authors in her field, Professor Díaz is author of more than 200 scientific publications, and recently co-chaired the intergovernmental IPBES Report, which establishes the global consensus on the state of biodiversity and the solutions needed to address it.

Professor Díaz’s work in this area reflects that of RBG Kew, where we work to protect endangered plant and fungal species, mapping how they are affected by climate change within their wider ecosystems. Our teams track what is being lost, so we have a good understanding of how fast we need to act before it is too late. 

A woman standing in a garden next to a framed certificate holding a gold medal in a box
Professor Sandra Díaz, 13th Kew International Medal winner, Jeff Eden © RBG Kew

Previous medal winners

The Kew International Medal has previously been awarded to many notable figures for their important work in the fields of science and conservation, including 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), President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón (2017) and former Irish President, Mary Robinson (2018).

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