This year, World Land Trust are celebrating their 30th anniversary. CEO John Burton looks back on three decades of global conservation work

“We started 30 years ago in Belize and this year we’ve funded another land acquisition programme in the same country”

In 1989, John Burton was at an event in the US. At the time he was a writer and broadcaster, called upon to comment and write about conservation issues, but a chance meeting changed both his life, and the lives of thousands of threatened species around the world.

“A friend of mine ran a conservation society, which was about to start a project in Belize,” remembers John. “He said to me: ‘You’ve got all these ideas about how to raise funds and you’ve not been in a position to implement them. If I give you $10,000 to start fundraising and get a public awareness campaign going about the project, would you be up for it?’ I thought, ‘This is a good challenge’ and took it on. By the end of the year we’d raised well over $100,000.”

That project focused on buying land in Belize that was threatened by agriculture, which had already destroyed the surrounding forests and the unique animal and plant life it held. As well as saving this vital area of land and its inhabitants, that project became the starting point for World Land Trust.

A global operation

World Land Trust protects the world’s most biologically significant habitats by funding the creation of reserves to provide permanent protection for habitats and wildlife. In the past three decades they have directly funded the purchase and protection of more than 700,000 acres (283,280 hectares) of tropical forest and other vulnerable land in 19 countries, from the Khe Nuoc Trong region of Vietnam to the Gran Chaco forest of South America. This work has leveraged the protection of over four million acres of additional land.

©Viet Nature Conservation Centre

“When we first started, no other charity in Britain was solely focused on buying and saving land overseas for conservation,” says John. “Now we work all over the world.”

While World Land Trust are constantly looking at new regions and countries, working with local organisations and people to out find ways to save threatened habitats, some of the early projects are still being worked on today. In Belize, there are currently two projects on the go, one saving tropical forests in the Rio Bravo area, and the other protecting 88,000 acres of land in Northern Belize. “We started 30 years ago in Belize and this year we’ve funded another land acquisition programme in another part of the country,” says John. “So we’re back where we started.”

Carbon Balanced Paper

Over the past three decades there’s been a large number of stand-out moments for John, but a personal highlight was when Sir David Attenborough agreed to be a patron of World Land Trust.

“David made a very generous donation to the Trust in memory of Chris Parsons, the producer of the BBC’s Life On Earth series and a good friend of mine,” he remembers. “We set up a memorial appeal for Chris, which David launched for me. Then after that he agreed to become a patron. I’d known David for 40 years, but that was a very important moment for me.”

A long-time patron and vocal supporter of World Land Trust, Sir David Attenborough understands the value of carbon balancing, something shared by the Carbon Balanced Paper programme. By raising funds for World Land Trust to protect the Khe Nuoc Trong area of Vietnam, Carbon Balanced Paper is a simple way for companies to reduce the carbon impacts of their marketing communications and preserve high-value conservation land, the habitat and the species they support.

“The money that is given to World Land Trust has, in my opinion, more effect on the wild world than almost anything I can think of,” says Sir David Attenborough.

A year of celebration

This year, World Land Trust have a number of special events lined up to celebrate their 30th anniversary. This includes an exhibition in London of photographs and film taken on land saved from deforestation in Belize, as well as an impressive exhibition stand at the British Birdwatching Fair (the Glastonbury of wildlife) which takes place this year on 16-18 August.

For John, this year is a landmark in both a personal and a professional sense, as he steps down from the role of CEO and moves into the area of conservation impact investments in South America.

“I’m definitely not retiring,” he states. “I can’t retire – there’s still too much work to be done.”

For more information about World Land Trust and their work, go to: www.worldlandtrust.org

Featured image credit: Bjornolesen.com/Viet Nature Conservation Centre

Article written by Sam Upton