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.

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