Tuesday, 24 August 2004

Islands for sale update

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about an island in Belize. This week I have found an island of over 2000 hectares for sale in Argentina for $580,000. That works out at around £60 an acre or $100 an acre. It is being advertised as ideal for hunting, and is situated in the middle of a river in the more tropical part of Argentina, and no doubt teeming with wildlife.

It is very frustrating, since all the time we are hearing of beautiful unspoiled pieces of land, in all parts of the world, but we lack resources to acquire them. Many of our supporters write in suggesting places, while others suggest we put pressure on governments to do something. The reality is that very often there is little or nothing governments can do -- in most poorer countries they lack the resources to protect existing parks and reserves adeqately. And in many cases the land is privately owned. The only solution is for the land to be acquired by a conservation body. However, funding for the purposes of land acquisition is difficult. International agencies and government agencies rarely support land acquisition -- presumably because of fears of being accused of colonialism. Aid agencies will fund research and training (which usually benefits the donor country more than the recipient), but not the actual acquisition. So this is where the public come in. This is why public support for the work of the WLT is so vital. If the public can help us buy land, we can set up the infrastructure for a local non-government organisation (NGO) to manage the land, and then aid agencies will usually support the management costs of looking after the land.

But the WLT is too small. We need to grow. We need to have in hand enough capital to make purchases when they come on the market. Unlike many other conservation activities, land acquisition usually has to move very fast, otherwise speculators and devlopers will move in, particularly when we are trying to buy the land as cheaply as posssible. The cost of a single tank used in Iraq would solve the WLT's problems......

The WLT is cost effective, and proportionately it has achieved more than many much bigger organisations, but there is little doubt we could do a lot more. Biodiversity is the buzz word of the 21st century, and the WLT's projects conserve biodiversity as one of their prime objectives. The WLT's network of partners conserve over 300,000 acres of land for wildlife -- that's significantly more than the RSPB, which has over a million supporters. Not a particularly fair comparison, but nontheless, acre for acre, the WLT's projects conserve many times more species, many more endangered species, at a fraction of the cost. Ideally we would like to create a large endowment fund, so that we had enough funds to run day to day activities, and then all efforts could be devoted to land acquisition. But where is the wealthy donor who will estblish such a fund? For the super rich of the world, whether it is a Bill Gates or a David Beckham, $10 or $15 million is insignificant. But it could make a huge difference to the future of wildlife.

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