Craig Bennett becomes new CEO of The Wildlife Trusts on Monday 6th April. He arrives at a time when people seek solace in nature from the coronavirus – but, like so many other charities and businesses, The Wildlife Trusts are struggling with the severe implications of the pandemic on funding, resources, and necessary absence of the 38,000 volunteers that usually help care for thousands of precious wild places and the species that depend on them.
When the UK emerges from coronavirus, the ongoing nature and climate crises will still remain to be tackled and The Wildlife Trusts want to be leading efforts to do this – but they need people’s continued support to survive.
The Wildlife Trusts are a movement of 46 charities whose collective strength often falls below the radar because they operate at a local, grassroots level; their positive influence for nature and on people’s lives is immense.
Craig Bennett, new CEO of The Wildlife Trusts says:
“These are desperate times. We’re facing global health, climate and ecological emergencies, and people are turning to, and need, nature more than ever. But when the pandemic has passed, there is a battle to resume – to restore nature and to empower people to take action for the natural world. At The Wildlife Trusts, we have a pivotal role to play and have a clear understanding of the urgency. We have long recognised that conserving nature – protecting the wild places and nature that remain – is not enough; we must all do more to restore the abundance of nature, restore ecosystem processes, and reverse the UK’s status as one of the most nature‐depleted countries in the world. We want to see at least a third of land and sea given to nature by 2030. In short, we want our nature back.
“We must ensure that The Wildlife Trusts can thrive and go on to recover from the effects of the coronavirus once it is over. We need support to continue to do what we are so prized for: care of thousands of wild and precious places, work to restore nature and carbon‐capturing habitats across the wider landscape, and engage people from all walks of life in the wonder of nature and to feel its beneficial effects on their wellbeing.”
Debbie Tann, CEO of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust says:
"I’m delighted to welcome Craig to the Wildlife Trusts at this vital time and look forward to working with him to put nature into recovery. Here in Hampshire and on the Island, we are ready to play our part – our Wilder strategy sets out our ambition to make a third of land and sea wilder, to double our estate, and to encourage communities to take action for wildlife right across our counties. Craig’s arrival at this pivotal moment is very exciting as we tackle the most pressing issues of our time: fixing the nature and climate emergencies and bringing wildlife back."
About The Wildlife Trusts and some implications of coronavirus on their work:
- Last year more than 38,000 volunteers, the highest number of nature volunteers, gave 1.7 million hours working for nature. Now, volunteering has had to stop. This will have a huge impact on conservation work such as maintaining and restoring habitats, monitoring wildlife and more.
- Over 250,000 acres across 2,300 nature reserves are cared for by the charities – and they advise on how a further half a million acres are managed. Collectively they improve vast areas for nature – additionally protecting thousands of acres through influencing planning decisions each year and caring for, or providing advice, along more than 11,000 miles of rivers. Much of this work is now on hold.
- 123 visitor and education centres run by Wildlife Trusts in every part of the UK have had to close, and all events and educational activities bringing people closer to nature have stopped. The subsequent loss of revenue will have a huge impact on their ability to fund vital conservation work. 100% of profits generated in visitor centre shops and cafes is ploughed back into nature conservation work by the Trusts.
Craig Bennett continues:
“Nature is in freefall and restoring it across whole landscapes is urgently needed – for its intrinsic value and also because of the important jobs it does for us. The catastrophic declines and the negative effects on ecological processes are now known to be directly linked to the climate emergency: drain a peat bog and you release thousands of tonnes of carbon; restore it and wildlife thrives once again while you re‐establish a massive carbon store and protect communities from flooding.”
Dr Craig Bennett
Craig joins The Wildlife Trusts in April 2020 and brings with him huge knowledge and experience of nature conservation issues, campaigning and leadership within the sector. He has been described as “one of the country’s top environmental campaigners” and by The Guardian as “the very model of a modern eco‐general”. He has been listed as one of the UK’s top “social media CEOs” and in June 2019 was identified by Onalytica, the influencer marketing company, as the “top influencer driving the debate around sustainability and financial services”.
Craig started as CEO of Friends of the Earth in 2015, following five years as Director of Policy and Campaigns. During Craig’s tenure, he refocussed the organisation on its unique role of empowering communities to take action where they live to protect the planet and using that momentum to tackle the climate and ecological crisis. The impact has seen campaign successes to protect nature and the climate ‐ with the banning of bee‐harming pesticides, and securing a moratorium on fracking in England ‐ as well as growth in the movement ‐ including over 170 new community groups set up to fight the climate crisis. He led Friends of the Earth in their battle against the expansion of Heathrow Airport – and in February 2020 the government’s decision to expand Heathrow Airport was ruled ‘unlawful’ by the Court of Appeal on climate change grounds. It was one of the most important environmental law cases in this country for over a generation.
Earlier in his career, Craig was Deputy Director at The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), and Director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (from 2007 to 2010), where he built the group into one of the most influential and progressive business voices in the international climate debate. Before that, he campaigned on corporate accountability, trade, and wildlife issues at Friends of the Earth and on international wildlife crime at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
He maintains his links with The University of Cambridge, as Policy Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy (CsAP), and as a Senior Associate at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). He has twenty years’ experience of designing and contributing to executive education and leadership programmes at numerous universities and business schools, including the Judge Business School, London Business School, and Duke CE.
Craig is Honorary Professor of Sustainability and Innovation at Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, Chair of the Sustainability and Resilience customer challenge panel for the Anglian Water region (established as part of the OFWAT price review process) and was formerly a member of the Net Positive Board Advisory Panel for Kingfisher plc. From 2013‐2015, he was Chair of the Board of Stakeholder Forum.
He has a BSc (Hons) in Human and Physical Geography from The University of Reading and an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation from University College London, and an Honorary Doctoral degree from University College of Estate Management (UCEM). He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA). @CraigBennett3
About The Wildlife Trusts
Most figures are from The Wildlife Trusts’ 2018/19 Impact Report; some are new ones from 2019.
In 2018/19 The Wildlife Trusts were the largest force for nature in the UK:
- 355,000 children and adults engaged with nature through our visits to schools, care homes and community groups
- 135,000 people took part in our campaigns for nature’s recovery
- More than 1.7 million volunteer hours given by over 38,000 volunteers
- 400,000 people took part in our 30 Days Wild challenge (2019)
- 20,100 people gained new skills on our training courses
- 491,000 people learnt more about wildlife at one of our events
How we protect wildlife and wild places here.
How we bring people closer to nature here. The Wildlife Trusts are at the forefront of research into the huge benefits that nature brings to our society including studies which show that being closer to nature, in wilder places, makes all ages happier, improves mental wellbeing and resilience to the stresses of daily life.
The Wildlife Trusts lead marine conservation in the UK with 50 coastal and marine conservation projects and successful campaigns which, over the last decade, have been instrumental in securing the Marine and Coastal Access Act and 91 Marine Conservation Zones.
We challenge and influence government at all levels where damaging policies and current plans for infrastructure projects could lead to deepening the climate and nature crisis, such as HS2 and Sizewell C.
In 2018/19 Wildlife Trusts collectively invested around £1.8 million a week into looking after and restoring wild places and connecting people with nature – in turn supporting local economies.
The Wildlife Trusts aim to enhance people’s lives and restore nature on a significant scale by:
- Calling for at least 30% of land to be managed to benefit nature to reverse declines, restore abundance and contribute to a nature’s recovery
Currently about 15% of land in England is protected for nature. [The figures we have come from Prof Sir John Lawton’s Making Space for Nature and from Natural England which state, in, for example, England: 8.4% land is a Site of Special Scientific Interest; 1.4% land is a nature reserve; 5.2% land is a Local Wildlife Site.] The Government have committed to protecting a further 4% in England through their 25 Year Plan but this has not yet been achieved. The Wildlife Trusts want to see the current area for nature doubled through a Nature Recovery Network of new, restored and joined‐up areas so that wildlife can expand and move around.
- Championing nature‐based solutions to climate change by increasing restoration of key carbon‐capturing habitats such as saltmarsh, peatlands and the seabed
The Wildlife Trusts are already undertaking vital work in maintaining important carbon‐absorbing ecosystems, and there is huge potential for improving the capacity of these natural carbon stores. Degraded habitats and ecosystems cannot achieve their full potential for locking away carbon and can even be responsible for emitting more carbon than they take in. Restored ecosystems however will absorb more carbon than they release. They will also be more resilient to climate change and provide mitigation such as flood control, drought resistance, and climate regulation. Therefore, protecting and recovering these habitats must be a priority. The Wildlife Trusts will publish a report soon showing how the UK is blessed with a range of powerful natural climate solutions, and how we are leading exciting work across the country to restore these. Natural climate solutions must be protected and restored at scale, but this is not just about tree planting – we want to shift the focus to other natural habitats that have high value for carbon capture. The Wildlife Trusts will commit to achieve net zero by 2030.
- Making every child wilder by increasing the time that they spend learning and playing in nature to at least one hour a day
Children now spend significantly less time in nature than they did a generation ago, and encounter wildlife less often. At the same time, the need for wildlife and wild places in their lives is increasing. Children and young people need a life‐long connection to the natural world in order to have healthy and fulfilled lives. This connection is vital for our society’s future relationship with the natural world. To that end, Wildlife Trusts are working to embed nature‐based play and learning in our education system and would like to see all school‐aged children to have the opportunity to engage pro‐actively with wildlife and wild places every day – with their parents and friends; at home and at school; informally and through organised activities.
- Establishing a natural health service so that the NHS can prescribe time in wild places and activities that improve health and reconnect people with nature and each other
People’s health and wellbeing can be improved by ensuring there are easily accessible wildlife‐rich natural spaces where they live and work. This is particularly important where access to nature is poorest, and pressure on health services is greatest. We need investment to increase green exercise and nature volunteering programmes which provide twin benefits: for those getting the health benefits from taking part, and for the local population, who benefit from having wildlife‐rich spaces on their doorstep. Recent research into the social and economic impact of volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts shows that engaging with nature promotes wellbeing and prevents mental illness from developing or getting worse. We need investment in targeted programmes that help people improve their mental, physical and social wellbeing.
- Inspiring 1 in 4 people to take action for wildlife through the national campaign for a Wilder Future
The Wildlife Trusts’ Wilder Future campaign began in 2019 with the release of a film trailer animation of the children’s classic story, The Wind in the Willows, reimagined for the 21st century. 135,000 people joined the campaign over the last year, taking a range of different actions to ensure the UK’s broken and bruised wild places can be better protected and restored, and adding their voices to our call for nature’s recovery to be properly mapped, planned and implemented across the UK. Recent campaign activity includes a call for a stop and rethink to HS2, following the publication of What’s the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much and was supported by over 66,000 people. ‘Wilder Future’ aims to develop a community of people acting and speaking for wildlife. The campaign’s most popular option invites people to share their personal commitment to bring nature back to life within their own communities and neighbourhoods and to help establish a recovery network from the grassroots.