Thursday, 18 December 2003

Copycats saving an acre of rainforest

I am regularly asked what I think of the various other groups that are buying rainforest in the same way that the World Land Trust has been doing since 1989. One answer is that plagiarism is a form of flattery. But more seriously, if the other organisations are doing an effective job, then the more the merrier; and it would be invidious for me to comment on how effective some of the other organisations are. The World Land Trust has cooperated very closely with The Nature Conservacy (TNC) over the Programme of Belize, and the World Parks Endowment works alongside in fundraising for Ecuador and elsewhere. Without the financial clout of these US organisations, we would never have achieved nearly as much.

The World Land Trust and Massachusetts Audubon Society were among the very first organisations to embark on an international campaign to save rainforest through direct purchase, and involving the public. This led to the purchase of the first 110,000 acres of forest in Belize. We have gone on to raise funds for thousands more acres, and have developed partnerships in many other countries. We have attracted a wide range of support from many well-known conservationists, writers, wildlife broadcasters and scientists, and we believe that our network is unparalleled.

The World Land Trust is still comparatively small, with most of our partners employing many more staff than we do -- and that's how it should be. We also have a very strong philosophy of empowering our partners, and not sending out managers from the UK to run projects. This latter is common in many of the larger organisations, and is a form of green colonialism -- sending out an eco-Governor General to show developing countries how to run a project. For projects to be sustainable, the local organisations must have responsibility, and be empowered. There are plenty of good local conservationists, who can do a first rate job -- and they have the local knowledge, not just of wildlife, but also socio-economics and politics.

Buying reserves, and offering the public an opportunity to participate was new and innovative when the World Land Trust Launched its first appeal 15 years ago. It is still a good idea, which is probably why it has been copied. But we're still brand leaders, striking out in new directions, forming new partnerships, and seeking innovative solutions to the ongoing problems of wildlife. We were particularly pleased that the Independent newspaper recognised the World Land Trust, by including us in its list of 50 Best Christmas Presents for 2003.

It's easy to feel powerless, but we believe that saving the wildlife, acre by acre is one way of doing something positive.

Monday, 15 December 2003

Why is the World Land Trust needed?

I recently gave a seminar at the University of East Anglia to a group of Master’s students drawn from all over the world, on the subject of international conservation organisations. One of the questions that came up in the wide ranging discussion (they were a very well-informed and stimulating bunch of students) was what makes the WLT different from other organisations? Although it was something we have often discussed within the WLT, suddenly I had to summarise in a few words.

I immediately recalled some of Jerry Bertrand’s (Hon. Chairman of the Trust) words when speaking recently at the Mall Gallery in London. He pointed out that the WLT has had an exceptionally high success rate with its projects. This was a result of very careful planning and implementation procedures. Between staff and Trustees we have, literally, decades of experience behind us. He also pointed out that the WLT was frequently innovative, leading the way where others followed.

Another feature which is probably unique, and was certainly innovative, is our relationship with our partners. All our projects are managed and led by local NGOs. Our role is to help provide funds for the purchase of land and for its management. Unlike many other international organisations, our overseas operations are not headed-up by ex-patriate management. We are fully committed to empowering the local NGOs, as it is our belief that this is the only sustainable long-term future for wildlife conservation. Only local managers can fully understand the political and economic parameters they have to work in, and we believe it is arrogant and has undertones of ‘green colonialism’ to assume that we know better and need to send in ‘experts’.

I have visited many parts of the world, and seen numerous projects first hand, and all too often they are led by ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’ from the developed world, at salaries often an order of magnitude higher than the local equivalent.

Some international organisation run huge administrative staff to manage their overseas projects, and we pride ourselves on being small and lean. In fact we are smaller than several of our overseas partners.

This is not to say we do not provide technical expertise or other forms of support. We certainly do, but only when it is requested. And generally only if that expertise is simply not available locally.

In the 1990s, it became widely recognised that all too often foreign aid had been a form of imperialism, making the recipients dependent on the donors. At the WLT we are making every effort to avoid that approach. The disadvantage is that our profile is much lower than other international organisations, but we believe that is a price worth paying.

Friday, 12 December 2003

Christmas Gift Acres a great success

The World Land Trust is buckling under its own success, but we're coping.

Following the inclusion of the World Land Trust's 'gift acres' in ther Independent's 50 Best Christmas Presents, the WLT has been inundated, with email donations via the secure server, and the phone ringing non-stop. Clearly after 15 years, the concept is still as popular as ever, and early in the new year, the funds raised will be used to acquire more forest in Ecuador. And the publicity has also helped the WLT's other projects -- the coastal steppe in Patagonia, and the elephant corridor in the Garo Hills of India.

On a completely different topic, Fauna & Flora International celebrated its 100th Anniversary this week. From 1975 to 1987 I was the chief executive of FFI (then known as the Fauna & Flora Preservation Society, and under its auspices I helped launch a number of projects which still survive -- TRAFFIC is perhaps the best known, but we also launched a Bat Conservation project, which has become the Bat Conservation Trust. It was also while working with the Fauna Preservation Society, that I began to realise the importance of land acquisition as a tool for conservation. And at that time there was no organisation in Britain dedicated to it overseas. So in 1988, the idea of the World Land Trust was born. ... and the rest is history.

Saturday, 6 December 2003

Independent 'sells' rainforest

Today's Independent, (one of Britains broadsheet newspapers) carried a special supplement on the 50 Best Christmas Gifts, and among them the World Land Trust's 'gift acres' were listed.

Just after midday I called at the office, and found the phone ringing and the answerphone full of messages -- obviously a lot of people extpected us to be at work on a Saturday, and so to work came Vivien, and spent the rest of the afternoon answering last minute Christmas gift requests.

It looks like next week will be hectic, but we're not complaining -- with any luck it will be enough to buy another chunk of forest in Ecuador. Our only concern is making sure people get their certificates before Christmas -- so if you're thinking of giving an acre as a present, please contact us as soon as possible -- if you can't get through on the phone, then our secure server on our website is definitely the easiest way. I regret that no one will be in the office tomorrow, but we're back on Monday, sharp at 9 a.m.

If you are contacting us by phone, the office is open 9 a.m. to 1p.m., and to 5p.m. At other times there is an answerphone.

Monday, 1 December 2003

Crimes Against Nature

This week I can do not greater service to the world's environment than encouraging readers to go to and read what Robert Kennnedy has to say about the disaster that is befalling the USA, and by extension, the rest of the world. Please read it.