Last night I went to Holt in North Norfolk to talk a bit about the World Land Trust. I’m a council member and was happy to spread the world a bit. Here’s a chunk from my speech.
So I met this bloke in a pub in East Anglia and we got talking and I said, what do you do, and he said, well, I save the world, as a matter of fact. And I said that’s nice, have you saved it yet? And he said, well, not all of it. But I’ve saved a fair bit of it, and I’m working on the rest. The bloke in question is, of course, John Burton, CEO and co-founder of the World Land Trust. And I said if I can ever do Anything to help you save the world, give me a call.
One day, back at the pub, John asked me if I’d care to write about saving the rainforest. So I said yes, I’d love to, and that set me off one a serious of great adventures – though none quite as bizarre as the first.
I found myself in the middle of the jungles of Belize with John, a writer from Hello magazine, a PR person from Jaguar – the motor cars rather than the eponymous cats – a very small female Greek fashion photographer, a very large male Canadian make-up artist and the film star Darryl Hannah, plus her gofer. And even with Darryl looking several million dollars, it was clear that the real star of the trip was the forest. And I was truly smitten.
It’s not about figures and statistics and accountancy: it’s about what kind of person you are. Are you a rainforest half-destroyed sort of a person? Or a rainforest half-saved? And I realised that so long as I supported the World Land Trust, I would have the incomparable luxury of knowing that I was fighting on the right side.
Buying land is expensive, and the more people we get on this planet the more expensive it gets. You can’t buy up all the land: but you can buy up a little bit that really matters. And that’s where the notion of the corridor comes in.
In India World Land Trust has established corridors where elephants can pass from one part of the forest to anther part of the forest and socialise and interbreed, and if a corridor is big enough for an elephant it’s big enough for anything else. By buying up one tiny parcel of land, we doubled the value of two pretty sizeable chunks of forest that lay either side of it.
So let me come to a conclusion in three parts. The first part is World. It’s important remember this famous dictum: think globally, act globally. We in the developed world have the cash and the responsibility and the awareness and the culture to do things beyond our own back-garden. Not as a form of neo-colonialism, but as a way of financing fabulous organisations in the developing world to do what they do best. World Land Trust raised a million quid for orang-utan corridors in the Borneo rainforest: for places that would now be an oil-palm plantation if we hadn’t got stuck in.
The second part is Land. It’s great to save a sexy species, I’m all for it, but we need to think bigger than that. If we don’t look after the land itself, we won’t have any sexy creatures to live on it or fly over it or swim through its water-courses.
The last part, and the crucial one, is trust. It’s better if we give money to an organisation we can believe in. One that is wholly transparent. One in which you know how much of your donation will go to elephants and elephant land, and how much will go on the staff needed to run the charity. With the World Land Trust it’s simple: at least 85 per cent of everything they receive goes straight to the projects on the ground.
So: we feel concern for the wildlife of the world so we put money in the land that they need to survive and we do so with people we can trust. I think you’ve probably got the idea.
So let’s take one more gaudy night in the rainforest. I love rainforest: it’s so hard to see anything at all apart from trees. And mozzies. And leeches. But I couldn’t go to bed, not just yet, so I sat out. Perhaps with a small glass of something. Wearing the humidity like a suit of clothes. The voices of my friends and colleague dying down now. And yet the endless fizz and crackle of the forest night all round: the feeling of a thousand thousand creatures living on, carrying on their ancient ways in a hyper-modern planet. The great richness of it all: a forest as rich and as moist as plum-cake, full of creatures that come in endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful. And all of it happening because of people like – you.