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This year, the Society’s medals and awards recognise 26 outstanding people and organisations for their notable contributions to geographical research, fieldwork, teaching, and public engagement.

Renowned geographical advocate and advisor to governments, Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB, and eminent climber and author, Stephen Venables, have been awarded the Society’s two prestigious Royal Medals. These are part of a series of awards that recognise extraordinary achievement in geographical research, fieldwork and expeditions, teaching, policy, professional practice and public engagement.

The Royal Medals, which are of equal standing, have been approved by His Majesty the King, and are among the highest honours of their kind in the world. They have been presented since the 1830s and past recipients include Sir David Attenborough, Dame Fiona Reynolds and Lindsey Hilsum.

Dr Vanessa Lawrence is awarded the 2024 Founder’s Medal for outstanding contributions to the promotion of geography in the UK and internationally. Over a distinguished career, Vanessa has held a number of high-profile appointments and led numerous important initiatives, including at Ordnance Survey where she led the delivery of OS MasterMap, a unique digital map, recording every fixed feature in the natural and built environment in Great Britain, as Chair of the Geographic Information Panel that produced the first Location Strategy of the United Kingdom, and as the inaugural co-chair of the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM).

Nigel Clifford, President of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), said: “Vanessa is a tireless advocate for geography who has done a huge amount to support geographers – at all levels – and to further the impact of geography globally. She is also a strong supporter of teachers through the Society and the Geographical Association, and I am delighted that her decades of dedication to the field are being recognised with the Founder’s Medal.”

Dr Vanessa Lawrence said: “I dedicate this honour to everyone who has supported me on my journey of geographical knowledge. ‘Everything happens somewhere’ is a slogan I began to use in 1993 to help communicate the importance of geography to government, business and the public. Today, location data provides the evidence base for the vital decisions we make for our planet, it underpins the essential emergency, health, utility and delivery services we all rely on and it is the core of the satellite navigation systems that guide us safely as we travel. I thank the Royal Geographical Society for the wonderful work it undertakes to promote geography to everyone; without the Society, I would not have progressed from being a 19-year-old student geographer to having the incredible professional privilege of championing the benefits of geography with senior government figures, policymakers and business leaders, tasked with authoritative decision-making around the world.”

Stephen Venables receives the 2024 Patron’s Medal for his lifetime’s contribution to geographical discovery in the high mountains of the world. A pioneer in his field, Stephen is credited with developing a long list of new routes and first ascents, including the demanding route up the East (Kangshung) Face of Mount Everest in 1988, and being the first Briton to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen as a member of a small American-Canadian-British team. 

Nigel Clifford said: “Stephen is not only a trailblazer in his field, he has also excelled as a writer. Through his research, depth of knowledge and writing style, he has shared his understanding of exploration and the history of mountaineering with a wide readership. He gives so much back to the mountaineering community through his close links with the British Mountaineering Council, the Mount Everest Screening Committee, the Alpine Club and the Society. The Patron’s Medal is a fitting recognition of his accomplishments.”

Stephen Venables said: “What a wonderful honour and surprise, to be rewarded for what is essentially having fun – exploring remote corners of the world’s most spectacular mountains, in the company of some of the world’s finest mountaineers.”

Two new awards have been introduced this year, the Geographical Engagement Award, which is being given to Professor Ed Hawkins MBE of the University of Reading, for his work developing the iconic ‘Climate Stripes’, and the Professional Geography Award, to Dr Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist at Google.

Other recipients include Professor Lily Kong, who is awarded the Victoria Medal for demonstrating exceptional intellectual leadership through her scholarship and contributions to the internationalisation of geography, and author and filmmaker Leon McCarron, who is awarded the Cherry Kearton Medal and Award for his work creating projects that champion geography on a broader stage.

Thank you to all Fellows and Members who nominated individuals for our awards this year.

Find the full list of 2024 medal and award recipients here.

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