Last week I attended the World Land Trust summer do and was elected as a council member. I try to avoid getting roped in to too many wildlife NGOs just because I don’t really have the time to devote to them and it is invidious to choose one over any others. But I made an exception for the World Land Trust.
Why? Well, several reasons. They are a bit different – they buy land abroad to safeguard nature but don’t hang on to it but find a local partner who will take on the delights and trials of land ownership and then WLT moves on when everything is sorted out to try to sort something else out. Also, Simon Lyster, their Chair, is a charmer and I somehow found that I couldn’t say no to him. Funny that, I find it easy to say no to quite a lot of people. But mostly I said yes because WLT is full of heroes.
Chief amongst the heroes are John and Viv Burton who set the whole thing up and are the driving force behind this organisation. They are doing a wonderful job, and have done for 25 years now (which is what we were celebrating). WLT is not a bit stuffy – it has the feel of a family business about it, which in a way is what it is. There is little formality and lots of smiling, a little bit of flying by the seat of the pants but a real, absolute passion for nature. That’s what heroes are made of for me! The challenge will come, eventually, for the organisation and for the Burtons as to how to hand over the reins to others.
I met lots of old (and we are getting older, but what I mean is long-standing) friends too. I sat in the council meeting between someone who doodles and Richard Porter. Next down the line was Sue Wells and in the room were Alan Martin and Elaine Shaughnessy along with others I know a little less well but with whom I am looking forward to working.
John Burton had the idea for WLT with American Gerry Bertrand – Gerry is a hero too and he was over for this event. I know Gerry from the Audubon Society (especially Massachussetts Audubon) and from BirdLife International. The RSPB gave him its prestigious RSPB Medal a few years ago too. Gerry and John hatched the idea of the WLT. Gerry spoke to us and he did it superbly – I’d forgotten what an accomplished speaker he is but this reminded me. His short speech – he left us wanting more (which is rare in a speaker) – had funny stories which weren’t amusing diversions but were there to nail a point in the trajectory of the tale. And it was all delivered with passion, humanity, clarity, seriousness and, probably, jet lag.
I spent a few minutes with Gerry, strolling around the lovely gardens where we met and trying to find him a Song Thrush (fail!) and talking about people we knew (I’d had a beer with (Sir) Graham Wynne the previous evening), climate change politics in the USA and the UK and Passenger Pigeons. Gerry immediately started promoting Martha to other trustees and council members. What a guy!
But I met a bunch of other heroes too – the WLT staff. I’m sure they are all heroes but I haven’t yet worked out which are the biggest ones. It was really nice starting to get to know such an enthusiastic lot of conservationists. We had presentations and chats and all were very friendly, enthusiastic and knew what they were doing. I’ll look forward to getting to know them better over time.
And that doodler was – Bill Oddie. He kept up a sotto voce commentary on the progress of the meeting which made me smile. And he is a bit of a hero too.