Tuesday, 23 September 2003

Boadband Internet connections and wildlife extinctions

What is the connection between Broadband and wildlife extinctions? you may well ask. The answer is that the World Land trust is striving to save endangered wildlife, yet is unable to get broadband. And broadband Internet connections are becoming essential tools for much of the fundraising activities of the 21 Century.

Our current Internet connections are slow, and relatively costly. Broadband would give us highspeed connections, much cheaper. If we were a commercial competitive business, this would be a serious competitive disadvantage. And yet the Broadband suppliers are under no obligation to provide the service. Expensive advertising extolling the virtues of broadband pervade TV and other media – but even though it often only costs a few thousand pounds to upgrade exchanges, it is not being made available. The reason seems to be, that in rural areas, where demand is low, it is much more profitable for the telephone companies to sell the old slow connection, or to sell the even more expensive satellite connections. I wonder if in fact this sort of unfair discrimination against small rural communities is actually allowed under EU legislation. Surely there should be some protection for what is clearly a case of exploitation of small businesses?

Help save wildlife --- lobby for broadband for rural areas.

Thursday, 18 September 2003

50 things to do before you die

Last night BBC TV showed a programme entitled 50 Things to do before you die. Several were things I certainly intend avoiding, for a variety of reasons. Climbing Everest for instance, mostly because I am not fit enough, and never likely to be, but also because the mountain has been spoiled by the debris of so many visitors.

It was interesting that many of these things to do were concerned with wildlife. Nothing really cultural - like reading a book, seeing the Mona Lisa, or seeing a film. And several of the the things listed I have been fortunate enough to do: see tigers in the wild, trek through a rainforest, visit a paradise island, see gorillas in the wild, fly over an active volcano, all of which were in the list. I can also think of a few more things considerably more exhilarating than some of those listed: SCUBA diving on a coral reef for one, I would prefer any day to Disney World.

But the interesting point of the list is that so many of the experiences relate to wildlife. That is another reason why supporting the work of the World Land Trust is so important. In Patagonia you can go whale watching, and have Right Whales a few feet away. In Ecuador you can trek through elfin forest and rainforest. In Belize you can trek through the forest in search of the elusive Jaguar, and then relax on the Barrier Reef. And Danjugan really is a paradise island. You can keep bungee jumping, paragliding, riding a Harley Davidson, and playing golf -- it's wildlife every time for me.

Here are my 25 things to do before you die, that come with a personal recommendation for 15, and 10 that I'’ve yet to do, but would like to (not in any particular order). I could easily come up with a few dozen more. Do any readers have other suggestions? Please email me at jab*AT*worldlandtrust.org (replace *at* with the symbol @ in your email address field.)

Things to do before you die – personal recommendation:

  1. See a tiger in the wild
  2. See an active volcano
  3. Visit a large seabird colony in the breeding season
  4. Visit a bat cave with thousands of bats
  5. See Mountain Gorillas in the wild
  6. See Whales close to
  7. Spend a night in a desert
  8. Climb on a glacier
  9. SCUBA dive on the Belize Barrier Reef
  10. Hear gibbons calling in the wild
  11. See the game parks of East Africa
  12. Go spotlighting for owls in South Africa
  13. Look for Salamanders in the Appalachians
  14. Visit a flamingo colony
  15. See giant redwoods

Still to do:

  1. See a Jaguar in the wild
  2. Visit the Australian Barrier Reef
  3. See a giant ant eater in the wild
  4. Visit the Kimberlies in Australia
  5. Visit the Galapagos islands
  6. See a Maned wolf in the Wild
  7. Visit the Cape when the flowers are blooming
  8. See a wild yak
  9. See Rafflesia growing in the wild
  10. See lemurs in the wild in Madagascar

Wednesday, 17 September 2003

Charity awards - a waste of time and money?

I am always slightly disturbed when each year I see details of charity awards. Charities are asked to nominate the 'Best Fund Raiser' 'Best Volunteer', 'Chief Executive' or 'Best Campaign', and then they are expected to dress up and to pay £100 or more per person to go to an awards ceremony and see the winners get their awards. Just like the Oscars. But is this really what donors expect charities to be spending their time and money on? Just filling in the entry forms takes time, and then there are trips to London's West End, hiring Dinner suits etc etc. The organisers no doubt argue that it is important to reward excellence, but I would argue that surely the best reward for excellence in a charity, is achieving the objectives of the charity. Not being patted on the back and spending several hundred pound being told you are good.

But most important, it's not what donors expect charities to be doing. Or am I wrong? Feedback from donors to the World Land Trust would be most interesting and welcome.

Monday, 1 September 2003

Donating to charities over the internet

John A Burton, the CEO of the World Land Trust examines some of the issues and suggests a checklist of questions that need to be answered before donating. Although this article was conceived in relation to charities concerned with environment, and in particular rainforest, the questions could apply to almost any charity.

Over the past two decades there has been a proliferation of charities raising funds for conservation, and the Internet has made it easier than ever to donate, but the controls are scant. How can the public separate the good from the incompetent, or even the downright dishonest web sites?


I first became seriously involved in wildlife conservation in the late 1960s, when there were very few relevant organisations indeed. I had been carrying out investigations into the abusive aspects of wildlife trade and publishing the results in Animals Magazine (the predecessor of BBC Wildlife). The World Wildlife Fund was new, and I became the first Wildlife Consultant to Friends of the Earth in the UK, soon after it was founded, in 1969. In 1975 I left FoE (which, as a campaigning group is not a charity) to become Secretary of a charity, the Fauna Preservation Society (now Fauna & Flora International). While at the Fauna Preservation Society I founded the TRAFFIC International network, and was one of the founders of both Bat Conservation Iinternational and the Bat Conservation Trust, and in 1989 helped found the World Wide Land Conservation Trust (now the World Land Trust).


The World Land Trust was founded to fill a niche – there was no organisation in the UK dedicated to raising funds to acquire land for conservation all over the world. The ‘Buy an Acre’ concept, launched (in BBC Wildlife Magazine, and on BBC Radio’s World Service) to buy land in Belize was a novel idea, and caught on, and soon other organisations were springing up and copying it. This is potentially a very good thing, since the more funds raised the more land saved. And the widespread use of the internet means that it has never been easier to communicate with the fund-giving public. There were also lots of other sponsorship schemes springing up, and one of the most popular has been planting trees. By the turn of the millennium, the internet was fast becoming the most popular form of making donations for both sponsoring acres and trees. But not all these activities are as charitable as they seem.

The Issues

However, the downside is that not only do some people distrust the security of donating on line (something we as an organisation have never had any problems with), but many people are now concerned about the integrity of organisations, and asking how to decide which organisations to support, and how to make decisions. Obviously I have a vested interest in promoting the World Land Trust, but I think the questions that we have tried to address on our web site are valid when assessing any charity. And if readers of this article can think of others, I would be very pleased to hear of them, and see if we can address those as well.

Transparency: It is essential that any charity expecting to receive funds from the public is as open and transparent in its operations as possible. Unfortunately this is not always the case. So check out the following:

Legal status: First and foremost make sure of the legal status of the organisation. In the UK Not-for-Profit is not the equivalent of the US Non-Profit. Any Company can be not for profit, but it does not make it a charity, governed by the strict laws of disclosure that apply to a Registered Charity. If a limited company, that is not a charity solicits donations, there may be good reasons – campaigning and political groups for instance, as well as travel companies, may decide against charitable status as it limits their activities – but sometimes it is not so straightforward. If you think you are supporting a Charity make sure you see its Registration number. And check it out at www.charity-commission.gov.uk Some charities operate for profit companies in parallel with the charity. But this should be obvious from the annual returns on the Charity Commission website. To complicate things further, an organisation does not have to be registered as a Charity to claim to be a charity -- so make absolutely sure they are registered. If they are not registered ask why not.

Communications: Not only should a web site disclose an email address, it should also give details of the physical location of its office, and give telephone numbers so that you can speak to someone during normal office hours. If it does not, the organisation it may be tiny – it is easy to create a flamboyant web site from an attic. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is increasingly difficult (if not impossible) for micro organisations to comply with all the legislation surrounding a charity, and remain cost effective. This is particularly so if they are using data bases and the internet.

People: A good web site should give some information about the people behind an organisation. The names of Key Staff, all Trustees and Honorary Officers (such as Treasurer) should be disclosed. Does the organisation employ competent experienced staff? Does it make effective use of volunteers? Does it have Auditors and Legal Advisors?

It is always a good thing if an organisation has high profile personnel associated with them as Trustees or Patrons – particularly people respected within the conservation field, or with a high public profile. If you have serious concerns about activities write to them – if they take their job seriously they should reply.

Finances: A web site should disclose some information about the finances of the organisation. Registered Charities have to submit accounts, and if you cannot find out anything about the finances on a web site, then simply visit the Charity Commission website, and check there -- it's easy to do so www.charity-commission.gov.uk. Charities are also obliged to supply copies of their Annual Report and Accounts to enquirers (for which they are allowed make a charge – usually between £5.00 and £10.00 to cover admin costs). If you are considering a large donation it is not unreasonable to ask for a copy.

Size: While small can be beautiful in the environment, being too small often means being inefficient, with overhead costs high in relation to charitable activities. If a charity does not have facilities for online credit card donations, or telephone donations, it is likely to be operating on a shoestring. This may not be a bad thing, but if it is operating internationally, it really does need certain facilities.

Other issues: I personally find it strange that some charities offer valuable inducements to support them – free gifts – some of which are not actually free, but come out of the donations or other costs of the charity. There’s nothing illegal in this but it always seems a bit odd. It's fine if the gifts really are free (Green & Black recently donated sample bars of Maya Gold Chocolate for us to send out to new supporters for instance).

Another aspect is value for money. Is it realistic to achieve what is claimed? Can land really be bought for £25 an acre? In some countries it is cheaper, others more expensive.

How much does it really cost to plant a tree? How are the running costs of a reserve calculated? Where are trees being planted? If in the UK, is there any mention of the substantial government grants being made for tree planting?

If you are sponsoring an animal is it really benefiting the species?

Finally there are businesses operating in a way that makes them appear like charities, so before making an online donation to what appears to be a good cause think carefully. You may not want your donation ending up in a director’s or shareholder’s pocket. Make sure you are donating to a registered charity.

In my experience all good charities are more than happy to respond to close questioning – it’s in their interests to ensure there are no bad apples in the barrel. If you cannot speak to someone, or they are evasive, ask another similar charity about them. And if you are thinking of making a large donation or legacy, get your solicitor to check the charity.

Wildlife friendly gardens

--Nature Reserves on a small scale

In the January 2003 edition of BBC Wildlife Magazine, Prof. Stephen Harris of Bristol University and Chairman if the Mammal Society wrote that the current British record for the number of mammals found in a garden stood at 18. But I have recorded at least 20 species of mammals in my garden in the past three years, and a similar number at a previous address.

In my garden just outside Bungay in N E Suffolk I have recorded over 20 species as follows:

Hedgehog, Mole, Common Shrew, Water Shrew, Pygmy Shrew, Bank Vole, Short-tailed vole, Wood Mouse, Yellow-necked Mouse, House Mouse, Brown Rat, Harvest Mouse, Grey Squirrel, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Fox, Stoat, Weasel, Long-eared Bat and Pipistrelle Bat. There is at least one other species of bat present, and within half a mile of the garden muntjac and red deer have also been spotted.

In fact, many people could expect to achieve this sort of variety provided they managed their gardens for wildlife – but they would need to live in a fairly rural area as well, since some species – such as mole, rabbit and brown hare -- are not popular in suburban gardens.

I think it raises interesting questions about what is a garden and what is a nature reserve. I was particularly aware of this as I am recently completed a book on attracting wildlife to the garden, to be published early next year, and clearly if the objective of ‘gardening’ is to attract wildlife, one is really creating a nature reserve. And conversely, managing the habitats on a nature reserve is only gardening, on a larger scale.

For example, the creation of small lakes and pools to attract wildlife on the World Land Trust'’s reserve in Patagonia (owned by the FundaciĆ³n Patagonia Natural), is little different to putting a bird-bath my backyard – just that one is around 1000 square metres, and the other is 7000 hectares (70 million square metres. And putting out peanuts for blue tits is analogous to letting the guanaco numbers increase so that pumas have prey.

Nearly all nature reserves need some degree of management, it is simply a question of defining the management objective, and if a gardener defines one of her or his management objectives as increasing wildlife, then they are creating a nature reserve. But there is no doubt, that in general, where nature reserves are concerned, big is beautiful. That is why as well as creating back yard nature reserves, we should all be trying to help acquire land for conservation in other parts of the world, where large areas can be purchased cheaply.

For further information on how the World Land Trust is helping conserve threatened wildlife in all parts of the world, please visit www.worldlandtrust.org