Award winning naturalist and wildlife TV presenter Iolo Williams has honoured an inspirational project which aims to safeguard and increase people’s understanding of rare sharks living off the Welsh coast.

Wildlife expert Iolo visited Pwllheli Marina in North Wales today (Tuesday December 12th) to officially crown Project SIARC (Sharks Inspiring Action and Research with Communities) as the Wales Project of the Year in the 2023 National Lottery Awards.

Established in 2021, Project SIARC is a multi-partner collaboration led by ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), it aims to safeguard rare species of sharks, skates and rays (a group known as elasmobranchs) off the Welsh coast whilst cultivating a new appreciation for the underwater environment in Wales.

The project beat off stiff competition from 3,780 organisations to reach the public voting stage in this year’s National Lottery Awards – the annual search for the inspirational people and organisations across the UK who have done extraordinary things with National Lottery funding. Project SIARC emerged victorious as the Wales winner following the vote.

The coastal waters of Wales are teeming with life and home to a diverse range of marine species, including 27 species of shark, skate and ray. This includes four species listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (the highest category before extinct in the wild): angelshark, tope, flapper skate and blue skate.

Project SIARC is doing all it can to make things better, and, with the support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project is designed to improve understanding of the rare sharks, skates and rays and also enable a wider range of people to discover the incredible marine environment here in Wales. Other funders include Welsh Government, Nature Networks Fund and On the Edge.

Project SIARC covers a vast area and operates throughout Wales, but the research and work alongside local communities is focussed at two Special Areas of Conservation (SACs): ‘Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau’ in North Wales and ‘Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries’ in South Wales. Research has included environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys, working with oceanographers at Bangor University to learn more about which shark, skate and ray species are present within the SACs.

With the help of fishers, communities, researchers and citizen scientists across Wales and the UK, the project is filling in critical data gaps for six species of shark, skate and ray.

Bringing the innovative programme out into the community, Project SIARC is engaging with and inspiring a new generation of marine conservationists through interactive primary school sessions, including ‘Meet the Scientist’ sessions and learning how to 3D print shark models with Swansea University. Several bilingual resources have been developed for schoolchildren, including an eBook to explore the heritage of angelsharks in Wales. More than 3,000 members of the public and 600 schoolchildren have engaged with the project’s work to date.

Over the last two years, 66 fish species have been filmed by Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS). To gather the underwater footage, Project SIARC scientists work with local fishers to strategically place these BRUVS, manufactured by Blue Abacus.

So far, around 200 hours of footage has been logged and uploaded onto ZSL’s Instant Wild website, helping to build a picture of the diversity of species and providing people from across the UK a unique peek at life under the waters of the stunning Welsh coastline.

As well as people getting involved online, hundreds of volunteers in North Wales have also been combing the Welsh coastline with North Wales Wildlife Trust to collect valuable records of shark and skate eggcases through the Shark Trust’s Great Eggcase Hunt citizen science project. The work aims to gain a sense of which species are breeding out at sea. Project SIARC is committed to creating more equitable and inclusive opportunities for all, and recently has expanded to work with project partners Minorities in Shark Sciences to help further this work.

Iolo Williams, Vice President of the Wildlife Trusts, visited Project SIARC in Pwllheli today to learn more about their amazing work and present them with their iconic trophy.

He said: "Funding raised by National Lottery players for good causes has played an important part in the success of this project. I am honoured to present them with this well-deserved award.

Our coastal waters are a vitally important part of our ecosystem so it’s fantastic to see initiatives like this playing such a crucial role in safeguarding these rare species and inspiring and educating people of all ages about the various unique creatures which live off the shores of Wales. It's absolutely vital for the future survival of our wildlife and our habitats because only by educating, connecting and re-connecting people with nature, can we encourage better stewardship of our seas and reverse the decline in biodiversity.”

ZSL’s Joanna Barker, Project SIARC Lead, said: “To win this National Lottery Award shows the importance of incorporating local community knowledge and voices into marine conservation in Wales. I would like to thank all who voted for us. It’s fantastic recognition for everyone who has committed their time and effort to help safeguard these species and raise awareness of a vital part of Wales’s natural heritage. National Lottery funding has been key to the success of this project; we’re immensely grateful for the support we have received from all our funders and partners.”

Natural Resources Wales & ZSL’s Project SIARC Technical Specialist, Jake Davies, grew up on the Llŷn Peninsula and has been working side by side with fishers to find the best spots to set up the underwater cameras which capture all the footage.

Jake said: “We are a team of dedicated people who find this work really rewarding and it’s been an absolute dream to work with wonderful communities, volunteers, fishers and such an incredible group of partners across Wales since we launched.

To win this award is amazing and I’m delighted to be able to play a part in bringing this underwater world into people’s homes, schools and enable communities to be more involved in their local marine environment.”

Thanks to National Lottery players, more than £30 million goes to good causes across the UK every week, which in turn helps initiatives like Project SIARC continue to carry out incredible work in their communities.

Anyone currently living or residing in Wales can get involved with Project SIARC by visiting or following the work on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.