Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Splitting charities

A recent article in Third Sector reflected much of my thinking on charities, when Nick Seddon questioned the fact that the Royal Opera House should be a charity. Apparently, like me, he likes opera. But also like me, doesn't think it should be a charity, when it is paying its CEO over £250,000 a year, and performers, pro rata get even more.

It is high time that charities were sectored. First and foremost, a sector for straightforward non-profit organisations could be created. The Royal Opera House could be one. So could various zoos, museums and similar organisation. It would sort out confusion. At present some zoos are charities, while others are not. How does the public distinguish them?

Next stage is create a hospital and health care sector. These have virtually nothing in common with a lot of other charities -- particularly those like the World Land Trust, WWF, RSPB. Health Trusts are partly (largely?) funded by government agencies, whereas most environmental charities rely on voluntary public support.

In fact, why not define a "Voluntary charitable organisation" as an organisation which has over 75% of its income comprising voluntary public donations, including corporate donations?

An organisation dependent on other foundations, and government agencies should be classified as a "Charitable Organisation", and the rest as simply Non-Profit Organisations.

Guidelines could be put in place which would set ceilings on the proportion of funds that should be spent on fundraising, admin etc.
It would certainly help the public decide which are genuinely charitable, and dependent on public support.

Just an idea.

Jackdaws on Dung

This morning I saw a sight that I found very encouraging. There were jackdaws feeding on the heaps of llama dung in our garden. Ever since we aquired a few sheep and three llamas, I have become aware of the problems of worming of these animals. Many vetinarians, and farmers believe it is essential to worm livestock regularly (never mind the fact that until the 1950s, most farmers managed without such treatments. And the helminthicide often used is Ivermectin, which is very persistent, and survives in the dung, to kill or deform the invertebrates that feed on the dung.

I have never wormed our animals, which remain perfectly healthy, and so over the past year it has been encouraging to see various scatophagous flies and beetles around the dung heeaps (llamas are communal dungers). And then to see jackdays probing for grubs was just great. We are all aware of the loss of woodlands and forests, but in England at any rate, the loss of grasslands and all the associated ildlife is considerably more significant.

San Rafael - Birds, butterflies and coatis in the Atlantic Forest

Guest blog by WLT's web manager, Helena Akerlund, who is currently visiting Paraguay, volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

San Rafael: Protecting the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay

Atlantic Forest
Atlantic Forest in San Rafael.
San Rafael is a 6,200 ha reserve owned and protected by Guyra Paraguay, located within San Rafael National Park in the south east of the country. The area is identified by WWF as a hotspot for conservation and was designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) in 1997 - the first such area in Paraguay. I have just returned from spending five days at Kanguery, the field station and centre of administration for the reserve. I was there to help look for rare birds and eggs, but due to unforseen circumestances it turned into a bit of a holiday instead, which I honestly didn't mind much!

The National Park is about 6 hours drive from AsunciĆ³n, capital of Paraguay, and covers 60,000 ha of forest in more or less good condition (the forest to the east is generally in better shape than in the west, where the cover is much more patchy). 11 globally threatened birds and 17 near threatened species rely on the Park for their survival and 7 indigenous communities also have their home within the Park boundaries. However, the Paraguayan government doesn't currently have the capacity or resources to purchase the land within the National Park, and most of it is therefore still in private ownership, making it difficult to protect. Enter Guyra Paraguay, which together with other conservation organisations is working to purchase all the central properties within the park (15,000 ha) and manage them for conservation, as well as implementing incentives for sustainable use of the land in the surrounding properties, working with local land owners, campesinos (farmers who don't own their own land) and indigenous people. Kanguery is located in one of the properties that Guyra currently own.

Getting to the reserve

Vast fields cover the land that was previously forest.
After a looong drive through endless fields of wheat, rice, eucalyptus (for paper manufacture in Chile), soya and other crops, most of which would have been originally covered by forest, we turned off the main road on to a smaller road that soon turned into an unpaved track, consisting of deep-red soil. At this point I though we were getting near the forest, but I couldn't have been more wrong! The journey continued through yet more fields, this time passing only a few villages and towns, but many small, scattered, homes of the campesinos looking after the fields on behalf of the land owners.

At the beginning of the last century this was all part of the interior Atlantic Forest. However, the Paraguayan government in the 1970s decided that this was land "used for nothing" and encouraged settlers from all over the world to come and utilise this untapped resource. As a result there are now colonies from Japan, Ukrain, Germany, the US and other countries making a living from the rich soil, which - in contrast to some other forest soils - converts very well to agricultural land without loss of nutrients and erosion. The '80s and '90s saw the worst deforestation rates the country had experienced and what is left of the Atlantic Forest today is just fragments, almost entirely made up of secondary forest: The primary (virgin) forest is long since gone.

Track through forest
The rough track leading through the forest to Kanguery.
Another few hours on an increasingly bumpy track and we finally reached the National Park, and edge of Guyra's reserve. The border couldn't have been more clearly marked if they had put up a fence: A razor sharp line divided the outside area from the reserve, the line being the edge of the forest, surrounded by crop fields. The track continued through the forest for another few miles before it suddenly ended as abruptly as it had started, and we entered an open area - but this time the transition was a natural one; the forest here is too sandy and poor for trees to establish successfully and instead a vast natural grassland (the designated IBA) stretched out before us. By now it was pitch black, but we did indeed see birds, including several nightjars resting on the path requiring a beep of the horn before they reluctantly flew off.

Rafaela the dog
Rafaela, resident dog at Kanguery, with the grasslands and forest in the background.
A few minutes later the track started climbing and when we reached the top of the hill a dog appeared from the darkness, trying very hard to get run over. We had finally reached Kanguery and were being greeted by Rafaela, one of the resident dogs.

Situated on top of the expansive grassland, Kanguery (named after the nearby river) offers spectacular views over the area, with great opportunities to see birds, which is what we set out to do next - but we ended up getting more than we bargained for, getting a brief glimpse of some coatis as well! More in my next post...

Friday, 21 September 2007

salaries for saving the environment

Third Sector Magazine, is probably the most important magazine for workers in the Charity sector. And the back of each magazine has all the current jobs going, particularly for CEOs and senior staff, such as fundraisers.

Out of idle curiosity I spent 20 minutes looking up the charities advertising for new CEOs, and seeing how the salaries compared with Income. What was interesting to me was that a large number of the charities seemed to be paying getting on for 10% of their income on the salary of the CEO. One with an income of £665,000 was paying its Director £50,000, while another with a turnover of under a million was paying £65,000 plus bonuses. The same magazine advertised quite a few jobs in the environment sector -- and there the salaries were noticeably lower. This bears out my experience. Conservationists are paid significantly lower than many other charity workers. But this doesn't bother me unduly (unless it is ridiculously low) since most people if asked, are much happier doing a job they believe in, for lower pay. Job satisfaction counts for a lot. Some of the larger environmental charities to pay 'commercial rates' for some of their jobs -- but the problem then is that you get people who just see the job as another career move. The argument is that you have to pay top dollar to get the best person -- but I am not sure I agree. It all depends how you define the best person. Motivated, enthusiastic and knowledgeable to me would mean best. Competitive, career orientated, driven, might get the job, but not get the same results. Who knows? Any ideas on this?

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

insider dealing with fundraisers

One of the greatest experts on fundraising (and I had the pleasure of meeting him, and garnering useful advice many years ago) is Ken Burnett. But how does it look when his company is one of the sponsors of the Institute of Fundraisers Annual National Awards, and Ken Burnett is the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award? I have made my position over these sorts of awards very clear in the past, and this simply confirms my cynicism. Like so many awards, (from peerages downwards) are they simply rewarding those who put up the cash? Don't get me wrong, Ken Burnett is a very clever guy, and his company undoubtedly does a very good job for those that can afford them. But is it right to reward your sponsors with awards?

The Institute of Fundraising National Awards are "championing best practice in fundraising". I could paraphrase that as scratching the backs of those that scratch their backs. Particularly as the whole selection process is based on proposing each other. No one is actually going out and searching for the best. Surely, even within the fundraising world, it is NOT best practice, to give awards to those that pay for your awards? Or am I just too cynical?

Edited:Turns out I was being too cynical - and wrong: The sponsors of the awards are Burnett Works, which is not Ken Burnett's company at all - that used to be Burnett Associates, although Ken sold his controlling interest in Burnett Associates in 1999 to a management buyout. And as Ken Burnett points out (below) Burnett Associates not only doesn't sponsor the Institute of Fundraising, it actually hasn't existed since 2001. My sincere apologies to Ken for this error on my part.

But my views on awards remain unchanged. You only have to look at history to see how often the award givers get it wrong. Just check out the number of great films that never got an oscar. And Darwin didn't get a knighthood.

The big green con

It is high time we took a reality check on the 'green' credentials of the carbon offset business. I have looked at numerous websites, and my conclusion is that the overwhelming majority are cynical attempts to exploit a growing environmental awareness, that do little to help conserve the planet for the future. Most are for profit businesses, and while there may not be anything intrinsically wrong in this, in practice, it will rarely lead to long term benefits to the natural environment.

The World Land Trust got involved in carbon offsets, simply because we saw it as a mechanism for raising funds for carrying out activities which were in themselves incredibly important-- that is saving land that is important for biodiversity. The fact that it also locks up carbon, is an added bonus for us. But there are plenty of cynically exploitative businesses out there, planting trees almost randomly.

It is generally recognised that for tree planting to have a significant carbon offset, it needs to be in the tropics, and having carried out our own research, and having worked with experienced local partners, we now know that it is relatively expensive to do this properly -- in fact we reckon it costs £12-£15 a tonne, to do the job properly, and ensure long-term survival. Consequently, I am very suspicious when I see businesses (that also have to make a profit, unlike a charity)claiming they can do it for as little as £7.00 a tonne. It is perhaps time the Advertising Standards Authority took a close look at some of the claims.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Wildlife watching in Paraguay

Guest blog by WLT´s web manager, Helena Akerlund, who is currently visiting Paraguay, volunteering with Guyra Paraguay.

I have been "ordered" by John to write a blog for the next month, so here we go: I'm in Paraguay, volunteering with GUYRA, WLT's partner organisation, which will involve visiting at least two of their reserves: San Rafael and Chaco-Pantanal.

Paraguay is a great destination for anyone intrested in seeing wildlife, as despite its relatively small area (roughly the size of Germany), the country provides several vastly different wildlife habitats, offering those on a limited budget - or those stretched for time - fantastic opportunities to see a lot without having to travel long distances.

Paraguay is still recovering from its many years of dictatorship and there is still relatively litte tourism (backpackers are virtually absent). Hopefully I'll inspire at least some people to come and volunteer or travel here!

The first destination: San Rafael. Leaving tomorrow morning, we'll be spending a few days recording rare birds. I'm very excited although slightly worried as I know nothing of Paraguayan birds (or any other birds for that matter!). Time to do some intensive studying of the bird guides! I'll report back when I return to the Guyra office in AsunciĆ³n.

Doing Nothing

Over a quarter of a century ago I attended my first big international conference on conservation. It was the IUCN General Assembly in Kinshasa, Zaire. Nothing like as big as the junkets nowadays, but I suppose there were getting on for 1000 delegates present. I recall sitting in the bar one evening and calculating how much it cost to organise a meeting of that scale. An exercises I mentally repeated when I heard that there were around 9000 delegates at a recent international conservation conference. Ignore the carbon foot print, and take a s a rough guesstimate that each delegate for a two-eek conference costs $5000, (in actual costs (air fares, hotel costs and salary -- this will be very much on the low side, and does not take into account opportunity costs, of being there). This could have bought outright somewhere between one and two million acres of rainforest.

But I have digressed already. It was in Kinshasa in 1975, that the World Conservation Strategy was born. And I was part of the whole consultative process. I recall, perhaps rather facetiously, suggesting that the scenario that was missing, when all the various strategies for long term conservation were being put forward, was doing nothing, or even encouraging the over-exploitation of natural resources.

And now a quarter of a century later I wonder if this might not have been good idea.
By slowly conserving natural resources, and eking out what's left, the day of collapse is simply postponed. And when it finally happens, there will be even less of the natural world left. And collapse, as Jared Diamond has eloquently argued, is certainly on the cards. His book of that name should be compulsory reading for all, particularly politicians. While it is certainly over simplistic, and certainly selective in the use of data and history, there is no doubt in my mind that the fundamental messages are correct. In relative terms, highly developed, highly sophisticated civilizations have collapsed, in many different parts of the world, and for different combinations of reasons. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the current oil/energy-dependent Americano/Euro-centric civilizations will be able to survive in the long term, or even the relatively short-term. It remains to be seen if it will be the direct results of climate change, the spread of pandemics or warfare -- all of which have been the causes of collapse both historically and prehistorically -- which will cause the collapse of the human population. But one thing I am personally sure of, is that collapse will come -- the planet cannot support a single species biomass the size of the human biomass indefinitely.

Meanwhile despite all the talk about climate change, virtually nothing of any significance is being done about the underlying cause. Too many people, with expectations of a totally unsustainable life-styles.

But perhaps a few more articles in the US Press like this one may make politicians take note:

Friday, 14 September 2007

The WLT moves up the scale

The top 500 UK charities have incomes in excess of £1.95 million, and the next 500 between &713,000 and £1.95 million. Last year the WLT was in the latter group, but in 2007 is well on its way already to being in the top 500, as we have raised over £1.2 million already, with around another £500,000 committed.

And how have we achieved this? Difficult to say, but when I read Third Sector and other newsletters relating to fundraising I am often appalled at some of the advice by professional fundraisers. The way some people harass would-be donors. At the WLT we do ask for support, but on the whole it is pretty low key. And, in fact, all the major donors in the last few weeks, totalling over £300,000, have come to us unsolicited. To me the answer to fundraising has always been that if you do a good job, and people know about you, then there is a good chance they will support you. And the WLT does try and make its website as informative as possible, so that generally by the time someone phones us about making a major donation, they have already answered most of the basic questions.

One way, the readers of this blog can help the WLT is by asking searching questions that you think could be answered on our website, that will be of interest to others.

The more comprehensive our website is, the more donors will want to support our work.

It's NOT the economy, stupid!

Following on from my recent blogs, I have been asked "What's the point of conservation, if it's all so depressing?"

A difficult one. Strictly speaking of course, it's all natural. We are only one cog in the mighty mechanism that is ecological equilibrium and evolution. I am personally pretty well convinced that the next few decades will see more and more wars, more outbreaks of disease, and almost certainly economic collapses. I am not an economist, so can't even hazard guesses how and where these will occur. But with China owning so many of the USA's dollars, and the rapid economic growth of India and other parts of Asia, combined with the trillions of pounds of debt that the citizenry of Britain owe, something has to give. So why bother. Well in many cases I do actually think that conservationists are full orchestra playing away while Rome burns, or as the Titanic sinks -- which ever you prefer. But buying land and protecting it makes sense to me however you look at it. It has tangible results. It's there, and with any luck, we can make sure it's still there in 100 years time, after 'civilisation' as we know it has changed, or collapsed. And anyone who suggests that it won't either change dramatically, or collapse, is living in cloud cuckoo land as far as I am concerned.

Bill Clinton used the phrase "It's the economy, stupid" in his successful 1992 presidential campaign. It's time all politicians realised, the problem is not just climate change: "It's the human population, stupid".

A point Sir David Attenborough alluded to in the opening programme of the BBC's recent Saving Planet Earth series. David is widely regarded as the most trusted person alive today. Rightly so, in my view. So politicians should sit up and take note. "It's human populations, stupid." Perhaps if we all say it often and loud enough they will eventually hear.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Cool Earth and Green Imperialism

It's happened again.
Multi-millionaire Johan Eliasch who, according to The Independent (12 September 2007), "is advising the Government on deforestation" [sic] wrote yesterday about "unique model for reducing tropical deforestation" created by Cool Earth. Cool Earth "grew from a meeting of minds between Frank Field and Johan Eliasch"

But, as so many of our supporters have pointed out this so-called "unique model" seems to be precisely what the World Land Trust and its partners have been doing since 1989. It's great that others are joining in, but still rather galling to find all the hard work of our partners, in Brazil, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, India, Mexico and the Philippines all being ignored. And there are other similar initiatives being supported by our colleagues in Netherlands IUCN.

And it's difficult to for Cool Earth to claim they didn't know about these activities since if you type "buy an acre of rainforest" into Google, the World Land Trust comes up top, or thereabouts. Cool Earth has to have a paid advert to get seen on the Google searches' first page.

Small national NGOs need all the support and recognition they can get. For a brand new British NGO to claim that they are the first, could lead to accusations of green imperialism.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Disappearing wildlife

I have on many occasions, both in books and in my blogs mentioned the dramatic decreases in wildlife. Unfortunately TV and other media, don't like doom and gloom, so often only emphasise the good news stories -- and I suppose the WLT is also guilty of this as well. We might publicise the fact that we have helped save 10,000 acres of dry chaco -- but probably don't give equal prominence to the fact that the Mennonites have cleared tens of thousands of acres, and turned it into farmland.

But the scale of the devastation of wildlife is truly alarming and rarely faced up to. I grew up in England in the 1950s, when flower rich meadows still existed on the outskirts of London. When common lizards were found in the suburbs. When colonies of yellow wagtails nested on a suburban sewage farm, alongside redshanks, lapwing and a large colony of tree sparrows. All gone. Red-backed shrikes and wrynecks nested in southern England. Now quite extinct. Bats darkened the sky over Godstone pond just outside London -- now you will be lucky to see a couple of dozen in an evening. When I first started using mist nets as a bird ringer, cockchafers and other large beetles were a problem in the early evening -- now a rarity. Stag beetles were common in the South London suburb of Streatham. Jackdaws nested in Hyde Park. And go back a little further and read W H Hudson's accounts of birds at the end of the nineteenth century, and you will get an idea of abundance of species such as wheatears.

To explain many of these declines we only have to look at what is happening in Africa, to our summer visitors. Just as the north American songbirds are crashing because of the loss of rainforests in Central and South America, so European migrants are going because of the devastation of Africa's natural habitats.

About 20 years ago it dawned on me that saving a few charismatic species such as tigers and orang utans was possibly not the best way of conserving biodiversity (though at the time the word was not really in use). And twenty ears on I am even more convinced that it is only by conserving large tracts of land that does wildlife have a chance. It's not just that the other methods, such as 'education', or 'sustainable development' are not that effective, it's more that without somewhere to live, wildlife doesn't stand a chance. And also, over the years I have seen a huge amount of money poured in to 'research' of various sorts, as well as 'education' and all the other unquantifiable methods of conserving wildlife. It has certainly provided a lot of jobs for a lot of people from the developed world --and done very little to actually preserve wildlife or habitats.

The great thing about acquiring land is that it is there. Even if there are problems managing it, at least it is there, and demonstrably there. If half the funds spent on research, education and report writing over the past half century had been spent on acquiring land for nature reserves, I am quite certain, a lot less wildlife would be threatened than at present.

And to return to my starting point, it is not just the biodiversity we should be worrying about, it is the biomass. But think about it: biomass is related to carrying capacity. If England's farmlands are producing "x" tonnes of oilseed rape per acre, when years ago it was only "y" tonnes per acre, then its the wildlife biomass that getting squeezed. And if the population of goats in Africa have gone up by 20 times in the past half century, then the wild antelope, and other wildlife will have decreased by a similar amount. It's what known as ecological balance. And no amount of research or education will change it.
Depressing but true.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

A depressing world

I am often asked "Don't you find your work depressing?", and when I respond "Yes", then asked "Why do you carry on?"

These are extremely difficult questions, verging on asking the meaning of life. And the answer is almost as pointless. However.

My recent visit to southern Brazil is a case in point. Flying from Rio, south to Curitiba, over Sao Paolo, one can see the endless destruction of what was once the vast Atlantic Rainforest. Now only 4 % of it remains. Or perhaps 6%, depending on which book you read. But it doesn't really matter, since in huge areas it's actually 0%. Totally and utterly depressing.

But then we caught a mountain railway from Curitiba (I am sure I had been in the very same carriages years ago in the Adirondacks) which travelled so slowly for 80 kms or so through the mountains, shrouded in Araucaria forest. Through railway cuttings so narrow you could have stretched out of the window and touched the fern-clad rocks either side. Over viaducts scarily high, through clouds, onwards and upwards, and then down for mile after mile. All through forests.

And so there was light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel. A huge swathe of surviving forest. Demonstrating why it is worth while trying to save what is left.

Demonstrating that though the impact the WLT is having on a world wide basis could be considered insignificant, when looked at on the local basis, the impact can be massive. And it is a model. We, and our partners, are showing that it can be done.

It is not just a question of cash either. Though lots more would certainly help. It is also very much a case of developing expertise and experience, and this is the great strength of the World Land Trust and its partners -- an enormous resource of experience and expertise.