‘A meaningful and joyful’ approach to addressing some of the world’s problems

Durrell chief executive Lesley Dickie tells Emily Moore why the organisation’s Rewild Carbon initiative is far more than a tree-planting scheme and carbon-offsetting programme

 Durrell CEO Dr Lesley Dickie. PICTURE: Durrell (31181770)
Durrell CEO Dr Lesley Dickie. PICTURE: Durrell (31181770)

AS you step into Lesley Dickie’s office, your eye is drawn instantly to the striking Bokra mural facing you, with the vibrant scene depicting a ring-tailed lemur keeping a beady eye on one of its most-feared predators, a prowling fossa.

The image is a riot of colour and, as you engage in conversation with Durrell’s chief executive, you quickly realise that it exemplifies her passion for, and commitment to, the natural world.

Indeed, as Dr Dickie describes the organisation’s work in some of the world’s most threatened ecosystems, the picture she paints is just as vivid as the images on the wall.

This is particularly true as she outlines Durrell’s latest initiative, Rewild Carbon, which launches officially on Wednesday.

A tree-planting scheme? Yes. A carbon-offsetting programme? Yes. But, as she explains, the programme encompasses far more than that.

‘So many carbon-offsetting programmes are poorly constructed, consisting primarily of mono-culture plantations,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t even describe many of them as tree-planting schemes, as the one-species-of-tree approach is a disaster for biodiversity and, in fact, sequesters very little carbon.

‘We know that the two big existential risks facing the planet are biodiversity loss and climate change so it was crucial for us to develop a scheme which would tackle those areas as well as community and pandemic risk. We also know that all our actions, both as individuals and businesses, have a negative impact on the planet and we wanted to offer a way to counteract that activity.’

And so, after much research, Rewild Carbon was born.

‘There are three phases to the programme, as we want to focus on Brazil, Madagascar and Assam,’ explained Dr Dickie. ‘The first phase is taking place in the Atlantic Rainforest, as Brazil is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world and action here can have a tremendous impact.

‘The work here is based around reforestation and afforestation, and we are working with our partners IPE (Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas) – whose founder and many of the team are Durrell graduates now working in Brazil – as we aim to restore 5,000 hectares of new forest through a series of tree corridors. This initiative will support the 100 species of mammals, including the critically endangered black lion tamarins, 439 species of birds and 30 species of mammals which are native to this area.’

With each sapling being planted and nurtured by the rainforest’s landless population, Durrell guarantees that every tree will survive or be replaced.

‘Our partnership with the local community is a critical element of the programme, with the project designed to bring value and livelihoods to the area’s people,’ she added.

And there is a further health benefit to the reforestation project.

‘In cases of fragmented deforestation, the pandemic risk is increased as you get highly stressed populations of animals, who become immunologically suppressed and therefore more likely to spread viruses both among themselves and humans with whom they come into contact,’ said Dr Dickie. ‘Every time we fragment a rainforest, we radically increase the risk of a virus jumping from animals to people.’

With the project therefore based around the ‘four Rs’ – reviving ecosystems, recovering species, reducing carbon and rebuilding livelihoods – Dr Dickie is confident that Rewild Carbon offers a ‘meaningful and joyful’ approach to some of the biggest threats facing the planet.

‘From the perspective of a business thinking about its carbon-sequestration needs, this is something really joyful to be involved with,’ she smiled. ‘It goes beyond a box-ticking exercise and gives companies the opportunity not only to offset their carbon emissions but also to build a rainforest.’

Is there a risk, though, that companies might sign up to the scheme and continue operating as before?

‘When a business signs up to Rewild Carbon, they sign up to carbon offsetting and to reducing their carbon footprint,’ said Dr Dickie. ‘We know that businesses are becoming more aware of their impact on the planet and we also know that there is a move for biodiversity and carbon disclosures to become mandatory, something that I would expect to see within the next two or three years. These are issues which companies will have to address and we are offering a one-stop shop where they can do this in a really engaging and meaningful way.

‘We are also encouraging people to think about this now. We know there is a target for the Island to become carbon-neutral by 2030 but we cannot wait until then before we start working towards this. In the tropics, you can grow a forest within ten years so if we can start planting in Brazil now, we can make a real impact by 2030.’

While Rewild Carbon is based on environmental outcomes, there are also financial incentives for companies to get involved sooner rather than later.

‘The scheme charges companies an annual fee based on the amount of carbon they use during the year,’ explained Dr Dickie. ‘Therefore, as a company gets better at reducing its carbon use, its cost will drop.’

And the benefits to businesses do not stop there.

‘As environmental awareness grows, employees and customers increasingly want to work with companies that are doing the right thing for the planet. Rewild Carbon offers businesses the opportunity to get involved with a project that not only sequesters up to 40 times more carbon than a mono-culture plantation but also enhances biodiversity and helps to save species,’ she added.

‘If you look at the black lion tamarin, for example, there are only about 1,000 of these little monkeys left. This is the number-one species that Sir David Attenborough would like to see saved from extinction and we are the world experts in its conservation.

‘We use our expertise gained from our work with them here in Jersey to support them in the wild. For example, we understand that the tamarins need somewhere safe to sleep at night, and this would normally be in the hollows of mature trees. When we build tree corridors, the saplings do not have these hollows so we have tested nest boxes in the woods at the Zoo to find a design which the monkeys were comfortable using. This design has now been taken to Brazil and the tamarins in the wild are using them. This demonstrates the advantage of joining a scheme run by an organisation which truly understands the animals and how they use the space.’

While the scheme will be launched firstly to companies, Durrell will offer it to individuals and families who want to calculate their household’s carbon budget and offset their own footprints in 2022

For more information about Rewild Carbon, visit Durrell.org/ rewildcarbon or contact Rachel Hughes on rachel.hughes@durrell.org.

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