Monday, 11 October 2004

The Lottery lottery

The whole county of Suffolk, which is where the World Land Trust is based, if it was worth an average of £2,500 an acre, (which even excluding building land is certainly well on the low side) would cost a little over £3 billion to buy. Yet if the World Land Trust was to buy nature reserves of this size in the most threatened parts of the tropics, it could save a similar sized area (around a million acres) for less than £24 million.

And £24 million is what the Wildlife Trusts have received from the Heritage Lottery Fund for land purchases over the past decade. Of course they have not been able to acquire a million acres – in fact less than 100,00 acres.

I am not decrying what the Wildlife Trusts have done -- I am a long-term supporter and will continue to be so. The problem is that if we want to save biodiversity – which after all has become a byword for 21st century conservation, then we have got to put our money where our mouth is. One of the largest single sources of funding for conservation in the UK is the National Lottery, but the amount it will give to international conservation is peanuts compared to what it puts into the UK. A total of £67,500,000 to the wildlife Trusts alone in the past decade. If the World Land Trust and its partners had access to that sort of money, not only could it have acquired an area the size of the whole of Suffolk it would also have been able to establish an endowment that would have provided enough income to provide for the permanent protection of the land so acquired.

So why doesn’t the World Land Trust get funding for its work from the National Lottery? The answer is very straightforward: It simply does not fulfil the criteria established for grants. The UK’s National Lottery grants are primarily designed to help people, and mostly to help projects in the UK. The relatively few international projects are nearly all geared to short-term, poverty alleviation and health care. A cynic could argue that many of the projects are actually exacerbating the problems of wildlife, since dealing with these human issues in isolation, and not taking into account the long-term problems of expanding human populations, is bound to have a disastrous effect on natural habitats and wildlife. The Lottery has given a little over £150 million to international causes out of a total of £16 billion distributed. – ie. Just over 0.1% goes to international causes. Of course the argument is that the money raised comes from British lottery players. And while this is true, it is also true that the wealth generated in Britain is often created by exploiting the very parts of the world which are most at risk from environmental degradation. In bald terms, it is a fact that much of the wealth of Britain is directly dependent on cheap resources from overseas, and on selling at vast profit to poorer nations things they do not need, such as tanks, fighter planes and other armaments, as well as loans at extortionate interest rates to buy these arms. It is time that priorities were rethought, if a commitment to so-called biodiversity conservation is to mean anything. There is little point in spending millions of pounds conserving a handful of species in Britain, if meanwhile we are allowing tens of thousands to become extinct, which could have been saved at a fraction of the cost.