Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Saving the rainforest - or just generating more paper?

18 March, 2010 - 16:05 -- John Burton

At the World Land Trust, we have always emphasised the need for conservation action, as opposed to yet more discussions, reports and research. With limited funds to spend on conservation, the Trust feels that it is better to use available funds primarily to protect as much wildlife habitat as possible before it is too late.

A new report, "Saving the Rainforests: Civil Society Mapping - A project for the UK Environmental Funders Network" (PDF document, 817KB, opens in new window) by Harriet Williams and Jon Cracknell made me wonder what value this might have to conservation.

The authors have done a huge amount of work compiling all the data, but I haven't a clue what it all shows. One very significant piece of data omitted entirely is the financial resources expended on each of the activities identified (such as "Peoples Heroes", "Finance Pioneers", "Brand Attackers", or "Voluntary Carbon Offsets"), and without that information it is absolutely impossible to compare like with like. Like so many academic studies, it seems of very little use to the actual practitioners in the field.

The World Land Trust is listed in the report, and its activities categorised, but quite how they were delineated and compared with other organisations is entirely unclear to me. Organisations significantly smaller than the WLT according to the analysis, appear to be active in a very wide range of activities -- but since there is no indication of what resources are devoted, it does not really reflect what's happening on the ground.

The fact on the ground can often be very different to what appears from a superficial reading of an annual report and accounts. For instance, the WLT probably has far more interaction with indigenous peoples than most of the organisations listed as active, yet WLT is not listed at all, because a) we do not give it a high profile in our publicity, and b) as a proportion of our overall budget it is not large. But an organisation spending 50% of a small budget on work with indigenous peoples is spending much less than WLT spending 5% of its total budget.

If you read this report and disagree with me, please can you show me how it can benefit the operation of conservation? Clearly a lot of work went into it, but I don't see how it advances rainforest conservation.


Submitted by Anne C (WLT Staff!) on

Firstly, I don't disagree with you! But there are several things that perplex me about this document: most importantly it makes no mention of any attempt to measure or consider outcomes. What on earth is the use of compartmentalising activities like this without attempting to gauge their effectiveness? Also, the whole paper is the kind of academic dissection which quickly becomes an end in itself, and the dissected areas of work give little clue to the nature of the living organisations analysed.

But there are some ways this paper can be turned to WLT's advantage. If I've got it right (and I scanned through quite quickly)only about a third of 'forest organisations' sampled have biodiversity as a top priority, and nearly half have no involvement with actual reserve areas at all. Those are facts well worth pointing out to WLT's potential supporters as a demonstration of how unusually direct our method of working is. However, we must be cautious using the paper's figures in this way, bearing in mind that as John says 'the WLT probably has far more interaction with indigenous peoples than most of the organisations listed as active, yet WLT is not listed at all'. Clearly other organisations may also have had some areas of activity missed out.
But of course, the prime aim of this paper was never directly to aid conservation, but to help grantmaking organisations distribute funds. As an aid for box ticking and proof their criteria are being met, I'm sure it will be useful to them…..though a few quick meetings with potential grant recipients would certainly be more informative.

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

But you see, this is why your supporters tend to be such ardent ones.

We – dare I speak for others? – tend to be those who have seen and heard an awful lot of guff puffed out on a grindingly regular basis, with so little to show for all the "major world" conferences or jamborees trumpeted up as the next 'massively important' event, only to find that – yet again – it was only heat and dust.

Hard action, on the ground, real remedial projects with demonstrable beneficial effects, THIS is what we really need.
Let the reports come once Rome has stopped burning. Our grandchildren won't forgive any more fiddling at this crucial stage.

I went to the recent presentation (12th March) given at London University by the Sierra Gorda people from Mexico; what they are actually doing, now, on the ground, is truly inspiring. It makes you curdle with embarrassment that, for all our First World talk of greenery, we're not doing the walking like some are, and have been in the 'Third World'.

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