Rewilding Britain: The Earthwatch Debate

Are we ready for a wilderness? It was a pleasure to photograph the annual Earthwatch debate on rewilding – for what turned out to be an eye-opening event…

Rewilding Britain, Earthwatch Debate, Royal Geographical Society, London
“Are you in favour of rewilding the UK?” – Kate Humble is presented with an overwhelming majority…But are we only interested in iconic species such as wolves and lynx?

A full house at the Royal Geographical Society, London was greeted by TV presenter Kate Humble and five speakers, each with their own perspective on rewilding:

Dr. Cristina-Eisenberg Forest ecologist, wildlife tracker and Earthwatch Scientist
Spoke of rewilding successes in the Rocky Mountains of North America where carnivores have made a comeback. Stopping the hunt on wolves and grizzly bears, and reconnecting fragmented habitats are important, but so is persuading local people that a complete ecology and healthy environment is ultimately in their interest as well.

Prof. William Megill Rhine Waal University of Applied Sciences, Germany
Highlighted the need for detailed planning, monitoring and control in our highly engineered environment, giving the case study of grey whales in the North Pacific that went on to destroy their own habitat by overfeeding.

Andrew Bauer Deputy Director of Policy, NFU Scotland
Expressed a positive view on rewilding if done sensitively and incrementally. However, with the audience not appearing satisfied by the prospect of reintroducing ‘lesser’ species such as flowers and ants, he had a warning: “Rewilding has very quickly become associated with charismatic species. That energises you but it gives other people concerns because they come at a private cost.”

Dr. Paul Jepson Director, MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management, University of Oxford
Called for large scale rewilding projects, managed with the willingness to stand back and let natural systems take their own course. “Let us create a British nature that is a bit more edgy, unpredictable and in your face.”

Jonathan Hughes CEO of the Scottish Wildlife Trust
Discussed factors of population growth and food production, and the importance of developing socio-economic benefits (such as ecotourism) for local communities. “If we are to realise this rewilding vision we need to combine ecological recovery with economic vitality in rural areas.”

Watch video highlights below (or the full 2hr event) and contribute to the rewilding debate on the Earthwatch website.


Palm Oil Pictures

I recently attended the Earthwatch Lecture Series to photograph an event discussing the environmental impact of palm oil production.

Earthwatch Palm Oil Lecture, RGS, London
Panel and guests inside the RGS lecture hall
Earthwatch guests disussing palm oil issues
Discussing a hot topic

Palm oil is one of the world’s mostly widely used vegetable oils, but environmental and social concerns surrounding its production make it one of the most controversial crops. Earthwatch speakers examined the challenges we face in conserving biodiversity in rapidly changing landscapes, and the role that science, citizens, and certification can play towards a sustainable future.

Glen Reynolds speaking at an Earthwatch lecure
Earthwatch scientist, Dr Glen Reynolds taking questions
Sue Holden, Earthwatch Executive Director
Sue Holden, Earthwatch Executive Director

Keynote speaker: Dr. Glen Reynolds, Earthwatch scientist and Director of the South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP)
Darrel Webber, Secretary General of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Leela Barrock, Group Head of Communications & Corporate Affairs at Sime Darby – one of the largest palm oil producers in the world

Read an Earthwatch article summarising the event and watch highlights below:


Interested in attending an Earthwatch event? This year’s annual debate will focus on the subject of reintroducing native species of wildlife – such as wolves, bear and lynx – to the UK. Rewilding the UK: Living in the Past or Preparing for the Future? will take place at the Royal Geographical Society, London on Thursday 16th October 2014 and is free to attend.

The Earthwatch Debate: Bone of Contention

Speakers for and against the legalisation of trade in endangered animal products

Is it time to reconsider a legal global trade in tiger, elephant and rhino products? That was the subject of this year’s Earthwatch Debate held on 17th October at London’s Royal Geographical Society.

An emotive subject ensured a full auditorium, with international onlookers invited to contribute via webinar. Martha Kearney, BBC broadcaster and journalist, expertly chaired the event as compelling arguments were put forward on both sides…

Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, dismissed any plan to combat the poaching crisis with legalised trade. “Legalising the trade of rhino horn and elephant ivory would not stop poaching and illegal trading, and would instead increase the demand for endangered animal products,” she said. Suggestions to introduce a regulated international market were simply “academic postulating” – and in practice, would make it much harder to detect and prosecute illegal trading. By contrast, South African born research fellow, Dr. Duan Biggs said that his home has turned into a war zone between poachers and conservationists, with rhino numbers still in decline. “Anti-poaching efforts in Kruger now involve the national army and the police…the current strategy of persisting with the trade ban on rhino horn is clearly failing.”

When put to a final vote, those against considering legal trade ‘won’ – and I agree. I have been fortunate to see a single black rhino in the wilds of the Masai Mara – but was saddened by the need for armed guards protecting it’s every move. The species had been pushed to the brink of extinction by illegal poaching for horn, and remains critically endangered. I fear that any trade allowance would only increase the traffic in black-market animal products. But what do you think? – learn more by listening to the debate in full or read a summary of the event on the Earthwatch website.

Dr. Glyn Davies, WWF speaking against a proposal for the legal trade of animal parts     Martha Kearney chairing the Earthwatch Debate: Bone of Contention

Why Emotion Matters in Conservation Science

Earthwatch scientists and staff take to the stage at London's Royal Geographical Society     Dr. Wallace 'J' Nichols presents the subject of neuroconservation

It was a pleasure to meet and photograph two world-class scientists last week, at an Earthwatch lecture exploring the theme Why Emotion Matters in Conservation Science.

Earthwatch scientist Dr. Anastasia Steffen highlighted her work studying the landscape and historical use of the Valles Caldera in New Mexico.Her co-speaker Dr. Wallace ‘J’ Nichols, a marine biologist, is leading the emerging scientific field of ‘neuroconservation’.

J is investigating how natural environments could be essential for our well-being, helping reduce stress – a factor that can lead to disease, and encouraging creativity. He noted that every well-executed marketing brand uses neuroscience to create an emotional hook. Music, magic and meditation are just some of areas which have exploited neuroscience – so perhaps it’s time conservationists did the same, he said. To hear the lecture in full visit

TV Presenter Kate Humble chairs Earthwatch Lecture

TV presenter, Kate Humble chairs Earthwatch Lecture, RGS, London

Left to Right: Prof. Yadvinder Malhi, Dr. Dan Bebber and Kate Humble

Climate Change and Forests

Every year Earthwatch hosts a series of free lectures at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Their most recent event brought 3 eminent climate change scientists together to discuss the findings of a 5yr programme between HSBC, Earthwatch, the Climate Group, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and WWF to inspire action by individuals, businesses and governments on climate change.

Visit the Earthwatch website to find out more, including audio of the 3 speakers and the introduction given by TV presenter, Kate Humble.

Earthwatch Lecture, Royal Geographical Society, London, UK

Animal attraction, Valentines Day 2012

Two cute sea lions sleeping on beach, Galapagos Islands

Two sleepy sea lions, photographed sunbathing on a beach in the Galapagos,  featured on the Earthwatch website today. The homepage banner links to a valentines love story about volunteers who met on an expedition back in 1974.

Earthwatch love story for Valentines Day

Related post: Valentines Vine!

Conservation…Kenyan style!

Daniel Letoiye speaking at Earthwatch

An inspirational Kenyan, Daniel Letoiye, visited the Earthwatch office in Oxford to give a presentation on his developing career in conservation. From volunteering on a project studying Grevy’s Zebra, Dan is now manager of a community conservancy and has received a small grant to undertake research towards his Master’s degree in Conservation and Rural Development. As Daniel explained, his education began after a childhood accident with fire. He badly burnt his legs and, being unable to join his brothers herding cattle, was sent off to school. The resulting journey – from Samburu, Kenya to Summertown, Oxford – is quite a story!

I visited Kenya in 2004, marvelling at the endless sky and wide open plains of the Masai Mara. It was fantastic to watch thunder storms light up the horizon as our jeep swept through a landscape alive with predator and prey. The picture shown below was taken moments before a swift but unforgettable encounter with a cheetah; the big cat disappearing into long grass as quickly as the golden light faded.

Acacia tree silhouette at sunset, Masai Mara, Kenya