Support WWF’s new campaign – Virunga

I spent some time working with WWF at the beginning of this year.  They are a great bunch of campaigners and environmentalists and I had a good time making or renewing friendships whilst I was there.

It slightly pains me that WWF-UK is spending less and less time involved in UK conservation issues because the rest of us will miss their wit and wisdom but it does free them up to get stuck into issues like this, which is their new big global campaign to save the Virunga National Park from oil exploration.

The Virunga National Park (sounds a bit more African than its former name, ‘Albert’, doesn’t it?) was Africa’s first.  It is the home to a good chunk of the world’s mountain gorillas and a host of other wildlife.  The park has gone through some good times and bad times but it seems that things are on the ‘up’ at the moment  – apart from the threat from oil exploration.

SOCO International is a UK-based FTSE-250 listed oil exploration company.  There are fears about the way that it is conducting its business and also fears about whether a National Park is the right place to be prospecting for oil.  I wasn’t impressed by SOCO’s statement on the matter which seemed to say ‘It’s not my fault, talk to the government about it’ and contained no promise about wildlife impacts at all.  SOCO’s environmental statement on their website is rudimentary and uninformative.

When SOCO says that ‘it will never seek to have operations in the mountain gorilla habitat, the Virunga Volcanoes or the Virunga equatorial rainforest’ it just makes me wonder why they chose to use the word ‘seek’.   Such statements are usually made with great care being taken over their wording.

Why ‘seek’?  It just made me wonder whether it was paving the way for a future statement along these lines ‘We have been working closely with the government of the DCR and we are just doing what they want’.  If you care about the environment and you care about gorillas there isn’t much comfort to be taken from here.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second largest country in Africa. It used to be the Belgian Congo (hence ‘Albert’) and it used to be Zaire.  The eastern side of the country, close to Rwanda and Uganda, is known as ‘the rape capital of the world’.  DCR ranks  121st out of 151 countries rated in the New Economics Foundation’s ‘Happy Planet Index‘ (a naff name but a good concept). If you live in the DCR you have a miserable short life but you don’t screw up the rest of the world much with the way you live.  It seems that that last measure may be about to change.

WWF are right to be worried about this development.  I wouldn’t knowingly buy shares in SOCO today – I would wait and see what happens if I were an investor with a conscience (I do have a conscience – it’s just that I don’t have any money to invest).

I’ve supported WWF’s campaign and I suggest you do too.  No doubt things may get a bit messy in future so they might need our help and support.

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8 Replies to “Support WWF’s new campaign – Virunga”

  1. Would that be the same WWF whose concern for conservation in the South Downs National Park is so great that they sell land bequeathed to them for that purpose for development?

    http://www.sosbohuntmanor.co.uk/background-and-wwf/

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    1. Filbert - I expect it is. If the bequeather didn't want WWF to sell it then no doubt they would have stipulated that as part of the bequest (or they should have done). WWF doesn't own land in the UK for nature conservation purposes so it's hardly likely to start building up a land portfolio now. Under charity law charities have to make efforts to make money in reasonable ways. I know a bit about this from a previous existence.

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      1. So it's the deceased's fault then - nothing to do with integrity or cynical abuse of trust for gain. He should have written the magic word "inalienable". I expect that whirring sound is him spinning in his grave.

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        1. filbert - it certainly isn't anything, IMHO. to do with cynical abuse of trust for gain. Maybe you know the details, I don't. However, I do know plenty of deceased who left land to charities happy in the knowledge that that land would be turned into money and spent on nature. Do you know that isn't the case here? I do know of charities who turned down bequests because the conditions or expectations were too onerous for them. As I say, I don't know the details of this case but I do understand the general issue.

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        2. When a bequest includes land the charity has little choice but to accept it. A will is the strongest legal document you;'ll ever write, nigh on impossible to overturn. The charity then has an obligation either to use the land for its purposes or to maximise income from it. If the best way was to sell the land then the charity has to seek approval under Charity Law after ensuring that it gets the best price. As mark says, WWF doesn't own land in the UK for conservation so will have sold the land to maximise its income from the bequest, as it is required to do. (Charity management is my day job)

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  2. It's 17 years since I was in Rwanda but even then at the end of the genocide, the Government was looking at conservation. During the killing people had moved into the forest to escape the Interahamwe and the troops but they were quickly moved out. One of my "souvenirs" was a gorilla statue and I know that conservation NGOs followed the humanitarian NGOs in the area. The problem is that DRC is such a lawless, corrupt country that conservation plays a very small part in their mindset. To get good conservation you need to get the people living there onside but how can you do that when they have no representative structure and corrupt politicians or militia leaders are in control? I've signed the WWF Campaign but I'm not hopeful.

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