Friday, 2 January 2009

Buy land. Save wildlife. 27 years crying in the wilderness

I was doing some filing over Christmas, and I came across some newspaper cuttings dating from September 1981. I had created a furore by giving a paper at the Annual Meeting of the British Association in which I pointed out that while millions of pounds were being spent on preserving post-Pleistocene relics such as the Giant Panda, thousands of species were going extinct in the rainforests.

According to a report in the Times of the 5th September 1981 I "called for a radical change in the approach of conservationists, and urged them to move away from funding research in favour of acquiring land to protect species...." At the time I was the Executive Secretary of the Fauna & Flora Preservation Society (now Fauna & Flora International), and my comments on the fate of the Panda led to calls for my resignation.

However it was not until five years later that I left the FFPS, and soon after that I did put my money where my mouth was, and founded what has become the World Land Trust. But in the intervening quarter of a century the situation has continued to deteriorate, and we are still a voice in the wilderness (what is left of it). Economic crises have come and gone, the world's human population grows ever more out of control, poverty increases in Africa, more and more aid is poured in to poorer countries, arms flood the world. And millions of dollars, yen, pounds, euros etc, are still being spent on (often pointless) research into endangered species. All of this continues, but wilderness, wild places natural habitats also continue to disappear at an even more alarming rate.

So. Despite all the gloom and doom, if you are inclined to make New Year resolutions, can I urge all readers to spread the word? If we want to conserve wildlife for the future, there is only one way that is truly realistic: save habitats.

The World Land Trust has shown how it can be done. We can never do it on our own, but our world-wide network of small, dynamic NGOs is helping spread the word. Our target for 2009 is to raise at least £5 million. Next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. But if much of that comes from donations of £50 or £100, and if the rest comes from the corporate world, the multiplier effect is significant. And if it is spent through strong and integrated partnerships, then it is multiplied even further.

I was recently asked why the WLT had become so successful over the past few years. The answer is very simple: Because we are successful and transparent. Success breeds success, and we can demonstrate some of the most successful conservation projects , some of the the most cost effective projects, and some of the most sustainable projects. Others are now copying us, with varying degrees of success. But our model is certainly effective.


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