Mike G. Wilson

BOU Council is delighted to announce the awarding of the Janet Kear Union Medal to Mike G. Wilson.

For over twenty years Mike has given outstanding service to the Union as editor of the IBIS book reviews. He retired from this voluntary role at the end of 2018.
Mike’s contribution to ornithology extends far beyond the BOU however, with Mike being part of ‘The Birds of the Western Palearctic’ (BWP) team from 1971–98, translating texts from Russian and German for this monumental work, and so integrating knowledge from Russia and Germany into our understanding of Western Palearctic ornithology.

On the conclusion of BWP, Mike was appointed as a honorary Departmental Research Assistant at the Alexander Library in the Edward Grey Institute at the University of Oxford where he continued to undertake prestigious editorial and translation commissions. Generous to a fault, he was ever willing to translate German and Russian texts as a favour for EGI colleagues and other academics. He was subsequently appointed Book reviews editor of IBIS, again based in the Alexander Library. In an increasingly busy world with an accelerating ornithological literature, it has become a growing challenge to find willing reviewers but, thanks to Mike’s diligence and perseverance, he fulfilled the role with great distinction for twenty years until recent ill health intervened. Again, he has expanded the BOU membership’s horizons by personally reviewing German and Russian books that may otherwise have been overlooked.

Like the modest, understated gentleman Mike is, his contribution to the BOU has flown under much of the membership’s radar, but without him our collective understanding of the eastern extremities of the Western Palearctic would have been decidedly poorer. In his lifelong dedication to unlock the findings of German and Russian ornithologists and build bridges with them, he has created an enduring legacy which is all the more important in an increasingly fragmented world. His outstanding service makes him a worthy and most deserving recipient of the Janet Kear Union Medal.

On being awarded the medal at a private ceremony in Oxford, Mike said:

It’s a great honour to receive the BOU’s Union Medal and I am most grateful to the Council for supporting my nomination. I have been most fortunate to have been able to pursue my childhood passion for birds into my working life and to have had the opportunity to work both internationally and at home on furthering understanding of the lives of birds. The BOU’s recognition that I have been able to help foster this through my knowledge of Russian and German, particularly through my contribution to Birds of the Western Palearctic and as editor of the IBIS book reviews means a great deal to me.

In accepting this medal I would also like to acknowledge and thank all the colleagues and friends who have helped me over the years, not least at the Edward Grey Institute at the University of Oxford which has given me such generous support.

Read the full citation (IBIS 161; 711-713).

The Janet Kear Union Medal

“The Union Medal was created in 1912 “to give special recognition for eminent services to ornithology in the field” *. Under the present Rule 21 it is limited to Union members. Four of these medals were received by members who took part in the Jubilee Expedition to New Guinea. One, in gold, was awarded to the leader W. Goodfellow and three, in silver, to Dr. A. F. R. Wollaston, G. E. Shortridge and Captain C. H. B. Grant.”

From Guy Montfort’s ‘History of the Union’ published as part of the BOU’s centenary (IBIS 1959).

105 years after the awarding of the first Union Medal, BOU Council took the bold move to refresh the award and deliver a new, contemporary medal with a design which better reflected the modern-day BOU.


Our new medal, designed by the BOU’s own Steve Dudley, was inspired by the stunning 2011 WWF 50p piece (celebrating 50 years of the work of WWF) designed by Matthew Dent of Bison Bison.

Using icons of recognisable bird families, their habitats and environs, people, ornithological activities and technology we believe we have a medal that reflects our members, wider community and the birds we study. Finished in sterling silver we have a medal which we hope will last the next 100 years.

More on the designing of our new medal.

Janet Kear OBE

With this being a medal for our members, a new medal provided an opportunity to recognise an outstanding member and their contribution the the Union. BOU Council unanimously accepted the Engagement Committee’s proposal to rename the Union Medal, the Janet Kear Union Medal in memory of Janet, who was President of the Union between 1991 and 1995.

Janet Kear (1933–2004) was a tour de force within the BOU during her lifetime, spending decades on committees and Council. As well as being President, she was Editor of IBIS (1980–88), served as the BOU Checklist Editor for over 10 years and delivered the Alfred Newton Lecture in 1995. She was awarded the Union Medal in 1998 and received an OBE in 1993 for her services to wildfowl conservation. Few people have worked harder for the BOU and Council are delighted to recognise Janet’s exceptional contribution to the Union through the annual award of the Janet Kear Union Medal.