A sensational summit

Three decades of radical roots conservationism culminates in a sensational summit.

If you protect the mangroves, you too will be protected.

The Whitley Fund for Nature marked its 30th Anniversary, having raised over 30 million pounds since their formation, when conservationism was still on the fringes of society. 

The People for Planet Summit celebrated by inviting guest speakers and mediators from a broad range of professions, including a selection of former Whitley Gold Award winners as Keynote speakers, who are mid-life career leaders globally in the field, with proven efficacy in advancing biodiversity. 

The event comes at a juncture, when success stories involving the natural world seem as rare as some species. What the Whitley charity achieves beyond many worthy conservation organisations, is the ability to empower and encourage, bringing speakers and audience with them to gain momentum in the seemingly monumental battle to help save the planet. 


By raising funds to give grants to grass-roots practitioner leaders across the global South, it takes a holistic approach to sourcing, recognising, publicising, and funding them. For the extraordinary recipients with the greatest impact, it champions and supports with repeat funding, thus nurturing the growth of the projects and solutions, promoting them further. 

Evidence that individuals can make a difference. There is no doubt that biodiversity worldwide is in dire decline. The 2022 World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report 2022 is their most comprehensive, contemporary study of trends in global biodiversity and the health of our planet. 

The latest flagship publication reveals global wildlife populations have plummeted by 69% on average since 1970. This staggering rate of decline is a severe warning that the rich biodiversity that sustains all life on our planet is in crisis, putting every species at risk – including ours.

Tempted by the topical talks and a chance to advance the Green Agenda, it was with hesitancy I proposed to attend the Summit. Given the seemingly relentless media and other reports acting as a reminder of society's environmental despair and impending global meltdown, the thought of 2 days and nights of potentially further dire findings, tales of crimes against wildlife, people, and environment, could well result in overwhelming, oppressive predictions. Not so.

The Redefining Carbon Offsetting talk saw Journalist, Tom Heap, corralling the contributors to bring out their best. Biologist and Keynote speaker Jean Wiener created Haiti’s first six marine protected areas. 


His goal is to increase the value attributed to mangroves in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, where 80% of the population lives in low-lying coastal zones. Empowering locals who previously harvested the mangroves simply to survive, he brought to their attention, “If you protect the mangroves, you too will be protected.” 

Eventually, Wiener achieved legislation to protect all of Haiti’s mangroves along 1,700 km of coastline, where mangroves sequester carbon at a rate 5 times greater than tropical rainforests and protect from storm surges. 

If you protect the mangroves, you too will be protected.

Later in the discussion, Wiener states “Corrupt governments 'double dip' by destroying their natural environment for profit. And are then paid to plant it again as an act of offsetting. Which it is not!”

Dr. Hotlin Ompusunggos’ innovative project work gives free dental care to locals in Southwest Borneo, so they're not forced to log orangutan habitat to pay for healthcare fees. She has expanded a successful healthcare model to Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem, one of Asia’s largest carbon sinks and the largest intact place on earth where orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos coexist.

Fundamentally, the requirement for sustainability is to demand less from the planet so the planet’s ecosystems can renew. Is this now an impossibility? Can good governance and auditing help? In summarising, To Heap stated, “We are living in a world that is accountable. Let's make it so”.


Diverting cash into sustainable solutions should be a priority. From 'Blue Bonds' to 'Greening the Economy' how can corporate strategies integrate nature? This timely and invigorating talk; Business, Biodiversity and the Financialization of Natural Capital, was chaired by Bloomberg Green's John Fraher, who opened with “There is a suspicion surrounding the financing of nature.” 

Indeed. Dr.Sam Sinclair from Biodiversify discussed how “In business, systemic change is needed. We have to show those opposed, how to change, quickly, while understanding the complexities of conservation”. Sinclair authored the initial guidance for creating private sector biodiversity strategies and supporting the UK government piloting key aspects of the Environment Act. 

Sinclair partners with companies that are nature-positive. Cue Sustainable Business Developer, Debra Meaden, who has long immersed herself in a world where 'green dosh does green good'. 

She spoke on the need to encourage businesses to actively engage and appreciate nature by integrating it into their work, acknowledging they still need to make a profit, as that's what business does. She added: “Once they see customers responding positively, they'll make a change, have a net gain, donate, and make good.”

The Keynote conservationists agree that the nature of their project work frequently doesn't fit the metrics of business. Resultantly, all agreeing dialogue is imperative between the private sector and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations).


Overall, this is an optimistic and exciting area, full of potential, IF the right people and companies collaborate cooperatively and transparently. A recent European report from Leaders Pledge for Nature is a step in the right direction, but in the bigger picture far more is imperative. 

However, the event brought not only hope but action in the right direction. The Nature Conservancy Council found that while the world spends US$124-143 billion per year (as of 2019) on economic activity that benefits nature, it spends much more on activities that damage it.

Moreover, to protect and then begin to restore nature, we urgently need to close a $722-967 billion annual financing gap. It's not possible to include all the good people and keynote speakers. 

With vital discussions including Adapting to a Hotter Planet, chaired by environmental stalwart, Jonathan Porritt or Safeguarding Seas in Peril with 'Gold' speaker Zafer Kizilkaya, who established Turkey’s first Mediterranean network of no fishing Zones, and has since encompassed 500km2 of Turkey’s coastline, one of the most overfished areas. 

Kizilkaya purported “If people woke up and all the trees in the UK were gone, it would be news, but it's happening to the oceans, and because it's underwater, no one sees or says anything.” His radical work is creating significant change and essentially highlighting the tragic reality that worldwide (those fish left), have nowhere to hide.


Pollinators and the Economy was a vibrant and somewhat spiritual session with Keynote speaker Dino Martins, a sage when informing and emphasising the importance of the pollinator. Working with farmers in Kenya and in his words, “Focusing on the little things that run the world”, the deep intrinsic connections between human life, livelihoods, and nature. 

His project work produced examples of crops, including passion fruit and aubergine which have seen a tenfold increase in yields for locals, thanks to better pollination. Charismatic, persuasive and with a PhD from Harvard, he knows how to 'work a crowd'. 

Also on the charm offensive and all in the name of conservationism was Marine biologist and shark specialist, Dr. Rachel Graham, whose work in Belize enabled Hammerhead sharks to return. She tells how they changed her life and career. 

It took 20 years to ban the fishing nets, and instead work with local fishermen on new and inclusive approaches. Her pioneering work was part of Belize’s ‘debt-for-nature swap’. She works with coastal communities across multiple tropical countries, and also employs creative approaches to conservation, such as the use of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets for those keen on sharks, but not that keen!

Also, the effervescent Professor Çagan Şekercioglu is among the most cited 1% of ecologists and ornithologists worldwide, with several accolades and projects for conservationism. Throughout his participation in the summit, Sekercioglu demonstrated a courageous and activist stance, demonstrably exposing corruption, and at one point he went bankrupt.


These are the people needed to bravely speak out on behalf of the environment. Pertinently timed of the current UN COP28 Climate Conference. The Whitley Summit presented topical talks and solutions, carried out by people at the heart of the natural world, who have immersed themselves and dedicated their lives to making a difference, with a dynamism and efficacy that COP could learn from. And it seems, are starting to do so.

A triumphant 2 days culminated with the launch of the Ethical Conservation Movement. Clearly concluding with the message that if one (philanthropic) organisation can communicate and collaborate across diverse disciplines with efficacy, commitment, and success, it could surely act as a role model for green businesses of the future. 

Founder Edward Whitley, sitting in the audience, was asked during 'question time' by an audience member if he would act as a convenor or ambassador organisation. Without hesitating, and in full knowledge of the work involved, Whitley answered “I'm sure we could arrange that''. 

Sam Sinclair from Biodiversify added: “This is my dream, that businesses in alignment with the principles of the Whitley Fund, can work together for the better.” Essentially the event and organisation acted as an enabler. Bringing a sense of solace, solidarity, hope, support, insight, and yes, a bit of fun! 

Enabling a vision of a future for nature where cooperation, inspiration, mediation, and mentors bring achievable and positive possibilities, platforming discussions and unique projects previously regarded as niche notions in nature conservation consistently paving the way to open minds, while operating 'on the ground', with indigenous and local communities at the core of its projects. Inspirational.

This Author

Wendyrosie Scott is an anthropologist & journalist focusing on art/design, lifestyle, festivals & creative communities, where the Natural and Cultural World act in positive partnership.

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