Our Director of Strategic Conservation, Simon Stuart, and his wife Ann will be going the extra mile (around 1000 extra miles, in fact) on their bicycles this Autumn to help conserve forgotten species.
Simon took a moment out of his gruelling training regime (ahem…) to talk about the challenge ahead for them both, why they are doing it and what they expect to encounter along the way.
In a nutshell, what are you doing and why?
My wife, Ann, and I are planning to cycle from John O’Groats (the northeastern tip of Scotland) to Lands End (the southwestern tip of England) in July and August this year. We have sort of had it in the back of our minds to do for a while, partly because it is a challenge, and partly because it is reputed to be a beautiful experience. Last year we both turned 60, and I suddenly realized that I am running out of time to do this! So we decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. We both cycle regularly over the hills around the beautiful city of Bath, but we have never done anything on this scale before. So we are far from certain that we can do it! After we decided to do it, then we realized that it would also be a great fundraising opportunity.
Have you or your wife done this kind of fundraising event before?
To be honest, we haven’t. I have done fundraising as part of my work for many years, but we have never done fundraising like this together before. So it’s another new experience for us!
Why should anybody sponsor you to support Synchronicity Earth and A Rocha – UK?
In short, because they are great organisations! Syncnhronicity Earth is modelling exciting new approaches to conservation philanthropy, focusing on identifying where the gaps are (for example funding the conservation of forgotten species and places), and identifying long-term conservation partners and helping to build their capacity to become more effective through careful investments. This is why I joined SE. Synchronicity Earth sees the organizations that it supports as partners rather than recipients. We can help them through funding and other types of support; they support us by helping us to understand the real conservation challenges and context in key parts of the world. The funds that Ann and I raise for Synchronicity Earth will go to our partners in the field, not to overheads, nor to my salary.
We plan to split the funds we raise 50/50 between Synchronicity Earth and A Rocha UK. Ann is on the board of ARUK – it is one of a family of A Rocha organizations that seeks to engage Christians in doing practical conservation (I am on the board of A Rocha International). ARUK has programmes, such as EcoCongregations, to help and encourage churches to become engaged. In the western world, Christians have often been slow to support conservation and in some cases have even opposed it. But that is changing now as the church is rediscovering biblical teachings in this area. A Rocha is a growing global network of Christians committed to saving the species and ecosystems with which we share this planet. Like Synchronicity Earth, ARUK is doing great work – in fact it is really the only organization in the UK that can get Christians practically involved in conservation.
What role do you think this kind of fundraising effort has? Is it all about the funds raised, or do you think there are other, less tangible benefits?
Well, if our ride brings good positive publicity, in addition to funds, to SE and ARUK, that would be great. However, I wouldn’t want to exaggerate our ability to do this. I will communicate our adventures and the importance of SE and ARUK through Twitter; but we think we are likely to be too tired to do a blog report on our progress each day. But we’ll see!
We know that conservation, when it’s done properly, really works. But we also know that there is nowhere near enough funding for conservation… Briefly (!?) – what do you think needs to happen to shake up conservation funding and ensure more money reaches the places where it is most needed?
Goodness, that’s a big question! There needs to be much more money provided. That means much larger donor budgets for conservation from governments and from the private sector. Then we also need to spend the funding that we do have much more wisely. Growing evidence indicates that short-term projects are much less successful than long-term investments. The annual amount given should be neither too small (obviously!) nor too large (surprisingly!). Huge projects lasting just a few years often have difficulties in achieving sustainable conservation gains. We also need to explore new funding models, such as social impact investing, livelihood schemes through which local people gain the financial benefits of conservation, and other new emerging ideas – just so long as we never promote the idea that nature needs to pay its way in order to have a right to exist. Synchronicity Earth is currently developing new types of innovative funds that we’ll be hearing more about in the coming years.
You’ll be cycling through some beautiful landscapes. What are some of the highlights you are looking forward to, and are there any species of note that you’ll be looking out for along the way?
Well, obviously we’ll be cycling the Scottish Highlands. Our route takes us along the north coast of Scotland, along Loch Ness, and up Glen Coe – so all that will be remarkable. Later we’ll be in the Welsh borders, and then we have to do the entire length of the Southwest Peninsula, which is widely reported to be the most difficult part of the journey in terms of the number of steep climbs! The landscapes will be fantastic. It is actually quite hard to look out for particular species while cycling, but I’ll do my best! But we’ll certainly be checking out the birds and plants around the places where we’ll be staying. However, for us the big question will be: can we make it all the way to Lands End – over 1,000 miles!?