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Saving land, saving life on Earth

Viv Burton, co-founder of World Land Trust, on the message in Sir David Attenborough’s Life on Our Planet
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Saving land, saving life on Earth

This article first appeared in our Ethical Shopping issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 30 October 2020. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Images: David Bebber / Martin Schaefer

Some of us are old enough to remember sitting spellbound through 13 episodes of Sir David Attenborough’s groundbreaking series Life on Earth when it first aired in 1979.

Wikipedia tells us that it was watched by an estimated global audience of 500 million; since then it has probably been seen by as many people again.

Who wasn’t mesmerised by a young Sir David staring into the eyes of a mountain gorilla? ‘The gentlest of primates’, he said.

We were staggered to learn that for every one person there are over a billion insects – ‘Put together they would weigh perhaps 70 times as much as the average human being’ – and that you and I are more closely related to a cod than the cod is to a shark.

In the final episode, Sir David closes by saying: ‘We [humans] are now by far the most powerful single species that has ever existed on Earth. That power brings great responsibility. It is now up to us to care for the planet and for all the other creatures for whom it is home.’ That was in 1979.

40 years later, Sir David’s message rings louder and clearer. The title of his new documentary – A Life on Our Planet – hasn’t changed a lot; neither has the message – it’s just more urgent.

Deforestation and meat

Since 1975, little short of 1 billion hectares (2.4 billion acres) of the world’s rainforests have been razed – much of it destroyed to provide pasture for the cheap meat industry.
Sir David warns the planet cannot continue to ‘support millions of meat eaters’, and focuses on saving forests and planting trees as the number one priority.

‘If there were no trees around, we would suffocate’, he says. ‘If it weren’t for the natural world the atmosphere would be depleted from oxygen tomorrow. Without the natural world, mankind is doomed.’

Saving mountain gorillas

Sir David’s meeting with primatologist Dian Fossey had a profound effect on him; after filming, he returned to the UK determined to do something about gorilla poaching. He turned to John Burton, founder of World Land Trust (WLT) as someone he felt would have the drive to make change.

Wasting no time, John – then chief executive of Fauna & Flora Preservation Society (now Fauna & Flora International) – spearheaded the hugely successful Mountain Gorilla Project.

Sir David Attenborough

Over the years the project has used anti-poaching measures, education programmes and targeted wildlife tourism to prevent the extinction of gorillas and change perceptions of chest-beating King Kongs, so we see them as the gentle giants that they are.

When John Burton went on to found WLT he sought Sir David’s backing; as well as being a patron, Sir David has joined with WLT to stress the importance of saving land to save species – and, ultimately, the human race.

Rescue the Chocó Forest

The coastal tropical rainforest of the Chocó once stretched unbroken in a huge swathe from southern Colombia to northern Ecuador. But have you heard of it? Probably not, as less than 2% survives.

But this 2% of lowland forest abounds with innumerable species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

WLT is working with Ecuadorian conservation partner Fundación Jocotoco to save these forests for the jaguar and fellow felines puma, ocelot and margay, as well as endangered monkeys, eagles, macaws and at least 375 other species of bird who live here.

The Chocó is as biodiverse as the Amazon, but far more threatened. We now have an opportunity to purchase and protect this last remaining tract of pristine Chocó rainforest and countless species from extinction.

To echo Sir David’s words: for life on Earth to continue we must save tropical rainforests – for the survival of the human race and for our very sanity. Here is an opportunity open to everyone.

Click here to donate to WLT’s Saving Ecuador’s Chocó Forest campaign.

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Viv Burton, co-founder of World Land Trust, explains why the charity is a key player in the fight to save land and species – and how you can help.

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