Partnership Profile: BirdLife International

Adventure Canada and BirdLife International both support regenerative practices, capacity building, and community innovations to help build a world where nature and people can co-exist in a state of harmony. Find out more about the Graeme Gibson Fellowship, designed to inspire the next generation of conservation leaders.
BLI featureimage

© Scott Forsyth

What is BirdLife International?

BirdLife International, or BLI for short, is a global partnership of conservation organizations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats, and global biodiversity. We are widely recognized as the world leader in bird conservation. We conduct rigorous scientific research and collaborate with community stakeholders for our on-the-ground projects supporting our conservation programs. BLI has a global family of over 115 national partners covering all continents, landscapes, and seascapes.

For example, during my own time with BLI, I worked for over a decade from Quito, Ecuador and led BLI’s conservation projects throughout the South American region, including in Patagonia, the Galapagos, the Amazon basin, and across the pampas. I worked with local and Indigenous peoples to support them in their efforts to conserve these valuable ecosystems.

Gannet seabirds with chick

© Dennis Minty

What is the Graeme Gibson Fellowship?

This is a new initiative that will provide talented up-and-coming leaders in the world of biodiversity conservation the chance to hone their skills and expertise. It is named for the late Graeme Gibson, a writer and conservationist who was also a past Co-President of BLI’s Rare Bird Club with his wife, Margaret Atwood. It really honours Graeme’s love for birds and conservation.

Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson Out of the Northwest Passage

© Jason van Bruggen

Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson, 2017 Out of the Northwest Passage expedition

The program will build a cohort of sixty fellows over the span of about six years the focus will be on cultivating a range of critical leadership, communication, and change management skills—such as team building, public speaking, negotiation skills, and crisis management techniques, among other things—that will be tailored to each fellow’s local and international context.

We hope that after completing the course, each of these leaders will better understand how to successfully execute change and develop effective working practices in each of their own local conservation organizations.

“Paying attention to birds, being mindful of them, is being mindful of life itself. We seldom think of it this clearly, but sometimes, unexpectedly, we are overtaken by a sense of wonder and gratitude. Surely it is the encounter with a force much larger than ourselves that moves us.” —Graeme Gibson

Why now?

We know that during the last fifty years, human activity has caused a 60% decline in the planet’s diversity of life. The scale, complexity, and urgency of twenty-first century environmental challenges requires conservation leaders who are well-equipped to face the challenges of a changing and precarious world. That’s what the Graeme Gibson Fellowship is all about—preparing these leaders as best as we possibly can.

Graeme Gibson Iceland Circumnavigation 2018

© Michelle Valberg

Graeme Gibson, 2018 Iceland Circumnavigation expedition

How has the first cohort of the Graeme Gibson fellowship gone?

Lucía Vales, a conservation program officer with BLI in Quito, Ecuador, says the first cohort of the Graeme Gibson Fellowship wrapped up recently and ran for about eight months from April 2022 to November 2022. Lucía said the first cohort went well beyond their expectations, as the program participants were able to develop new skills and felt grateful for the experiences. Ten fellows from different parts of the world, such as India, Brazil, Nigeria, China, Ethiopia, Cabo Verde, the U.K., and Australia were involved with the first cohort last year.

The work of these conservationists pertains to learning more about wetlands and biodiversity conservation, along with forest, ecosystem and habitat restoration, adopting nesting colonies, protection against human disturbances, bird tagging and tracking programs, observation of nesting islands, providing sustainable forest management, food security and sustainable livelihoods for community resilience.


© Kristian Bogner

The fellows learn how to have more meaningful collaboration with other communities and conservation leaders, and develop more efficient project management and grant writing skills. There are also opportunities for the conservationists to learn better human resources practices, such as team building, public speaking, negotiation skills, and crisis management techniques.

The international fellowship is considered to be one of the largest conservation projects taking place in the world and is designed to tailor the needs of each fellow and their specific area of work, with the help of workshops, allowing the conservationists to collaborate with one another. Lucía said BLI has already learned a lot from the feedback and experiences of the participants, and is getting ready for the program’s next cohort, which is planned to commence sometime in July 2023.

How does travelling with Adventure Canada support the fellowship?

This year, BLI will join Adventure Canada for its third expedition, from July 13 to July 25, with host Margaret Atwood, to explore the wild places between two other island giants – Greenland and Iceland. Limited space is still available on this epic voyage to join Margaret at the captain’s table, along with many other BirdLife members. 

Birdlife second pic

© Kristian Bogner

BLI will have the chance to give special presentations about the organization and biodiversity conservation—and of course we’re hoping for some great sightings on our shore excursions and out on deck!

I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret and Graeme for the first time in 2007, when I travelled with them on an Adventure Canada Arctic expedition in my capacity with BLI. They were both such a delight to travel with and I still treasure those memories. I hope you'll join us on these upcoming journeys and consider supporting the important work of this fellowship. I'm sure you’ll find Graeme’s curiosity about birds as contagious as we did. See you aboard!

About the Author

Ian Davidson

Ian Davidson

BirdLife International, Americas Regional Director

Ian Davidson is a wildlife ecologist with more than thirty years’ experience working throughout the western hemisphere on bird and biodiversity conservation. It was during his time leading BLI’s conservation projects in South America that he first met Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood on a 2007 Adventure Canada expedition throughout northern Canada and Greenland and fell in love with the High Arctic.

He holds a degree in Wildlife Management from the University of Guelph and has held leadership positions in wildlife, nature, and bird conservation organizations throughout North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean. Ian is crazy about birds (but is not a twitcher), loves to travel, and embraces the many cultures that make up the Americas.