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Britain's first-ever prize for safari guides, sherpas and naturalists was awarded this week - but to two individuals, because the judges felt they were both equally worthy winners.

The first Paul Morrison Guide Gold Award, in memory of the co-founder of Wanderlust magazine, was shared by KC Bhuwan, who leads treks in the Annapurna region of Nepal, and Manda Chisanga, a guide in the South Luangwa region of Zambia.

The travel writer Bill Bryson presented the awards at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Both men won bursaries valued at £5,000 to benefit community projects. "I work as a teacher to educate and empower female trekking crews in Nepal, and this award will help me continue that," said KC Bhuwan. Manda Chisanga, who described the award as "the greatest thing that's ever happened to me", will invest the bursary in Solar Cookers International, an organisation involved in harnessing the sun's power for cooking in Africa.

A silver award was given to Martin Gray, a naturalist from Orkney who works on expedition cruises to the polar regions. "His love of nature is balanced by a depth and breadth of understanding, achievable only after years of zealous observation," said the writer Chris Haslam. "The man should be given his own TV series."

The awards were created by Lyn Hughes, editor-in-chief of Wanderlust, in honour of her late husband; Paul Morrison died two years ago, aged 46. "Paul was passionate about the importance of good guides and the difference they can make to your travels."

One of the judges was Mark Ellingham, the founder of Rough Guides: "Ask anyone who has been on an adventure trip or a wildlife journey, and their guide is the first person they'll tell you about, most often with heartfelt enthusiasm for turning a holiday into an extraordinary experience: getting you to the right place at the right time to spot a leopard, or explaining how to tell the difference between one tree frog and another, or - most important of all - bringing you closer to a destination's local people and environment. The more you think about it, the more you realise: local guides are the real stars of travel."

Another judge, the naturalist and broadcaster Mark Carwardine, reported some of his experiences while guiding in Antarctica. Questions asked by clients include "When do the penguins fly north?", and "Is there water all the way around this island?"

"For decades, Britain's travel industry has been cheerfully handing out awards to itself," said The Independent's travel editor, Simon Calder. "This week, finally, the outstanding work of local guides in helping travellers to appreciate the world and host communities has been properly recognised."