4th March 2022
40 YEARS ON
This year The Conservation Foundation will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary a good opportunity for its co-founder David Shreeve to look back over its history and look forward to the opportunities for another 40 years…..
We are all saying that the world after Covid is a different place and in terms of the environment, this too is different from where it was 40 years ago – but in some respects there has been little change. Let me try to convince you.
Forty years ago, The Conservation Foundation sought to raise awareness of how people cared about our planet in many ways. Often in simple, personal ways – planting trees, restoring buildings, protecting wildlife – getting on with ‘simply caring’.
Our ambitions were not unreasonable – we would promote and celebrate those carers and their projects in the hope of encouraging others to support and hopefully, do something too.
In our first few years some of the existing ‘establishment’ environmental organisations and individuals looked on the Foundation as ‘this young upstart’, suspicious of our contacts with sponsors in PR and big business not to mention a launch at the Institute of Directors shown live on the BBC.
One journalist suggested that I was one of the very few conservationists with a sense of humour which I think was a bit unkind to the others. Having explained our plans to a Buckingham Palace private secretary I was told ‘you do understand you are entering a hornets’ nest’ as if to stress that caring for the environment was serious business, more a minefield than green pastures.
So, all in all it was an interesting start 40 years ago as we began giving awards to celebrate Rare Breeds, a wooden minesweeper being restored by a vicar, and a farmer in York dedicating his land to wildlife and creating an aviary to breed owls, kestrels and hedgehogs.
Other early initiatives included releasing an album of a whale hunting drama featuring Joanna Lumley as Serafina a humpback whale, and publishing two Conservation Reviews.
Our awards knew no bounds with some enabling young scientists to further their medical research by joining expeditions to tropical rainforests and engineers working on Pollution Abatement Technologies. Some awards will have helped stretch minds, others may have changed lives, but all were aimed at encouraging a greater awareness of how we can all do our bit for the planet. Almost 40 years later recent awards enabled young conservationists from around the world to meet and discuss ways to save endangered turtles.
Young people often suffer frustration being so aware of environmental issues and not always able to find ways of doing something themselves and that is why the Foundation is launching new awards during its 40th year for young people to get involved in a variety of ways.
Forty years ago, young people were aware of the environment, but it was seen then more as a hobby – something for holidays and weekends. Now details of environmental issues are everyone’s concern. At the end of last year there was so much coverage of COP26 raising the awareness and concern of everyone. But where’s the positive news of what resulted from all the marches, the pilgrimages to Glasgow, and the hype from high places? The issues have not gone away and the Foundation sees part of its on-going role to help young people fulfil their wishes to do something positive with their concern and commitment.
And not just in projects, but in advancing the Foundation’s work by bringing younger people into its own administration and management. It is so right for young people to feel involved in the world they are inheriting and the foundation is looking for some who would like to use their awareness and enthusiasm to help create and run projects as part of its team of trustees and board.
Forty years ago, it was acid rain and population concern, today it’s climate change, net zero, health and wellbeing. 40 years ago, we were concerned about polluting our rivers and streams, we needed more trees, we wanted more people to get on their bikes. Adults and children campaigned against the loss of nature which was threatened by building the M3 across Twyford Downs.
40 years ago lots of people cared, but now you could argue that more people care more because some of the issues we face seem to be even more pressing.
And people still do care and do great things even though the odds seem so stacked against us.
After 40 years we can look back at the Foundation’s varied initiatives undertaken with an approach which was inclusive and fun, never confrontational or strident. Projects run in partnerships – with corporate and individual sponsors, government departments, media organisations, trusts and foundations. We like to think of the Foundation having been an environmental incubator, helping fledgling ideas, projects and organisations get off the ground.
After 40 years we have not given up inspiring, enabling and celebrating.
And in 40 years’ time, no doubt the world will once again seem a very different place. We will probably live and learn in different ways, but still wonder at the signs of a new spring, the magic of a sunset and the spiritual uplift of a walk in the woods. And doing something to conserve our environment will still seem to be worthwhile.
If you have a memory of The Conservation Foundation from the past 40 years you would like to share please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org