10 groups campaigning for the natural world

Sunlight pierces through a dense green canopy
Breathable air, healthy soil, fresh water and the stability of our climate all rely on our planetary life-support systems – like rainforests and oceans – being healthy.
The chainsaw massacres happening in forests thousands of miles away affect us all

We may not be able to see huge and vital parts of the world being damaged or destroyed on a daily basis, but out of sight should not mean out of mind.

It’s time the ‘developed’ world stopped viewing nature in purely economic terms as ‘natural resources’ (mining, petroleum extraction, fishing, hunting and forestry are generally considered natural-resource industries), and started valuing rainforests and oceans as essential biological treasures to be protected.

Pavan Sukhdev, the Deutsche Bank economist leading a European study on ecosystems, reported in October 2008 that we are losing natural capital worth between $2 trillion and $5 trillion every year as a result of deforestation alone. This figure is based on estimating the value of the services – such as locking up carbon and providing fresh water – that forests perform and calculating the cost of either replacing or living without them.

In this way, the chainsaw massacres happening in forests thousands of miles away affect us all. Likewise, toxic chemicals threaten our air, land, water and wildlife – and ultimately ourselves.

Scientists say species are becoming extinct 1,000 times faster than we’d expect naturally. Fish populations are dwindling year by year. The scale and actual and potential loss of wildlife can seem overwhelming. Here are a selection of organisations dedicated to protecting species from extinction and keeping wildland from turning into wasteland.

The Stalwarts: Greenpeace, WWF & FOE
Household names and international in scope, these NGOs have clout and experience on the environmental front line. Greenpeace campaigns include protecting ancient rainforest, defending oceans and eliminating toxic chemicals. The conservation work of WWF focuses on 36 species groups and 35 terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecoregions. Friends of the Earth’s ‘Healthy Planet’ campaign tackles the interconnected problems of rainforest destruction, overconsumption and the food system.

Rainforest Foundation
Every year an area of rainforest the size of England and Wales is cut down. Since it was founded in 1989, the Rainforest Foundation has helped indigenous and local communities protect more than 100,000 square kilometres of rainforest. It campaigns to influence national and international laws to protect rainforest and their inhabitants. The Prince’s Rainforests Project also works with governments, businesses and non-profit organisations to find solutions. It aims to ‘make trees worth more alive than dead.’

International Fund for Animal Welfare
Threatened animals have an important ally in IFAW. The charity was started up four decades ago by a group of Canadian citizens concerned at the brutal commercial hunt for whitecoat harp seals. From stopping the ivory trade to saving whales from extinction and rescuing 19,000 oiled penguins, IFAW works to create solutions that benefit animals and people.

The Woodland Trust
Ancient woodland in Britain is being felled at a rate even faster than the Amazon rainforest according to the woodland trust, the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity. With more than 1,000 woodland sites within its care, it aims to protect what remains of our ancient tree heritage and expand the area of new native woods.

People’s Trust for Endangered Species
Many UK species are also under threat. Water voles, bottlenose dolphins, brown hares and hedgehogs are all currently showing a long-term decline. This conservation charity created in 1977 aims to preserve endangered species in their own habitats.

As human populations have grown, so has the demand for wildlife, whether in terms of consumption (food, leather goods, timber) or trade, for those in extreme poverty who are desperate for whatever they can get. Traffic is an international organisation that presents practical solutions to the problems created by the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.

Survival International
For centuries tribal peoples have lived in harmony with the natural world. Their knowledge and understanding should be valued; instead, in the name of ‘progress’, there have been land-grabs, massacres and attempts to ‘civilise’ and convert to Western ways. Survival International supports tribal peoples worldwide. It has pushed tribal issues into the political and cultural mainstream through campaigns, advocacy and education.

Saving the oceans may take decades, but to achieve real benefits advocacy group Oceana conducts focused campaigns that have a specific timeframe and objective. Oil pollution, seafood contamination, driftnets and discards (the portion of the animal catch thrown away at sea) are just some of the problems it tackles.

Marine Conservation Society
Do you know your sustainably sourced halibut from your overfished swordfish? If you’re looking for guidance on what not to buy, visit the Marine Conservation Society’s online lists of ‘Fish to Eat’ and ‘Fish to Avoid.’ Based in the UK, the MCS is a 25-year-old charity that campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable fisheries and protection for all marine life.

The chainsaw massacres happening in forests thousands of miles away affect us all

Marine Stewardship Council
Not to be confused with the MCS (above), the similarly initialled Marine Stewardship council (MSC) is an international certification and ecolabelling programme for sustainable seafood. Look for its blue ecolabel in shops or restaurants.

Wild Law
Small groups of ‘wild lawyers’ use the law as a tool to level the playing field between the powerful corporations and other living things. An example of wild law in action is the Trees Have Rights Too Campaign spearheaded by UK barrister Polly Higgins. She is calling for a UN Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights. For more on wild law, check out ClientEarth’s website and the Center for Earth Jurisprudence.

More from this author