Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Visitor centres, albatrosses and Greek motorways

3 October, 2013 - 11:02 -- John Burton

Just back from a week’s holiday in Greece, and while there I pondered two things: why the Greek economy collapsed, and how it might possibly be relevant to the work of World Land Trust (WLT).

The answer to the first question seemed all too obvious as I drove along a brand new, dual carriageway, virtually devoid of traffic and thence to a visitor centre in one of the national parks.

There's clearly been a huge investment in infrastructure, partly funded by the EU, but who benefits? The road building equipment no doubt imported for the project would help boost the economies of other countries, and the oil and steel involved in construction ditto. I take it that some Greek nationals were employed on these projects, but nonetheless most of the ‘investment in Greece’ went in and then straight out again.

And how is ongoing maintenance paid for? A single toll booth charging €2,70, with so little traffic, is hardly going to help. So, Greece ends up with massive liabilities stretching way into the future.

And then to the visitor centre. Very nicely done, with extremely helpful staff, who have some lovely free publications. But that was it. Anywhere else in the world a visitor centre would probably have a café attached, as well as a shop, and the publications would be sold. So how can such a visitor centre be sustainable? We went to another one that we had visited a couple of years earlier and found out it had closed down and was no longer in use.

The economic issues I saw in Greece are directly relevant to WLT and its partner organisations. I have seen wonderful facilities built in the Chaco of Paraguay funded by European aid. Empty and derelict less than four years after being built. There were no funds to employ the staff who were supposed to occupy them.

In this instance, our conservation partner in Paraguay, Guyra Paraguay, helped refurbish the Chaco visitor facilities, and when I visited recently I met with the new Minister of the Environment. She is extremely keen for WLT to help rebuild the entire infrastructure, and help support the rangers. But with limited budgets, and huge pressures, help is needed from the rest of the world.

This is one of the reasons WLT launched its Keepers of the Wild programme: to help provide ongoing support to protect the land we have helped acquire for our partners and to help build their sustainability. The problem is that funding agencies often like big capital projects, which they can plaster all over with their names, although such projects can too often become albatrosses round the necks of  ‘beneficiaries’.

In the case of Paraguay, If we can raise funds to cover the employment of rangers, the Ministry will provide the back up. It costs some £5,000 to keep a ranger in the field for a year. Surely, not a lot to ask.

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