A tree ‘massacre’ in Essex reveals the rot at the root of one of our leading conservation charities

Cut down tree.
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In part one of this three-part series, the Canary explored Taylor Wimpey’s plan to tear down over 40 protected trees. Crucially, the article identified Wimpey’s ecological consultant – Middlemarch – pushing to undermine the trees’ protected designation. In part two, we listed exactly why Taylor Wimpey cannot be trusted to work in nature’s interests.

For part three, the Canary found that the latest environment-wrecking whims of the housing developer have thrown up something notable – how leading conservation charity the Wildlife Trust is entangled with both Middlemarch and Taylor Wimpey itself.

Ecological consultant owned by the Wildlife Trusts

First up, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust (WKWT) – one of 46 federated members of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT) – is Middlemarch’s ultimate owner.

If it seems a bit off-base for a consultancy to be owned by a leading conservation charity, it’s actually not. In fact, the Wildlife Trusts umbrella organisation actually operates the ‘Biodiversity Benchmark’ that Middlemarch developed in collaboration with multiple notable environment-wrecking corporations. The Wildlife Trusts boasted that it:

is the only standard that certifies management of your business landholdings for wildlife.

Moreover, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts host a list of other big-name business partners. These include, for example: Aviva, Siemens, M&S, and (surprise, surprise) Severn Trent. The RSWT opined on how it’s proud to work with businesses, which can:

play a valued role in addressing the climate and nature crises across the UK

Read on...

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However, these sponsorships and partnerships could also provide environment-wrecking companies a convenient greenwashing screen to clean up their public image. The trusts’ working relationship with Taylor Wimpey is a case in point – showing that these connections might be a little too close for environmental and climate comfort.

Agreement with Wimpey

In the RSWT’s 2015 to 2016 annual accounts, the non-profit umbrella announced it had signed an agreement with Taylor Wimpey to:

to facilitate relationships between their local teams and local Wildlife Trusts to secure gains for wildlife around their new developments, from the planning process to community engagement.

So why exactly would the Wildlife Trusts sign an agreement to work with a notable environmental vandal? In short: to minimise the damage. Like other leading UK conservation groups, it labours under the idea that organisations have to work with ecologically harmful companies.

This is a misguided position which will bite conservation non-profits – and as a result, nature itself – in the arse. For example, working with housing developers like Taylor Wimpey to make miniscule wildlife-friendly adjustments to their projects has not stopped them lobbying the government to water down vital environmental regulations.

Wildlife Trusts weigh in

The Canary reached out to the Wildlife Trusts for comment. First, we asked if they recognised that their endorsement of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) principles – as used by Taylor Wimpey to justify chopping down over 40 protected trees – could open the door to environmental degradation by big polluters.

In response, a representative from Warwickshire Wildlife Trust (WKWT) stated that they believe:

there should be no conflict between development and achieving nature’s recovery. We work with developers who want to build and deliver to the highest sustainable standards in a way that protects and enhances nature. We provide advice on how this can be achieved. We support Biodiversity Net Gain as a mechanism for ensuring that development can demonstrably leave nature in a better state than it found it.

The Trust also argued against the suggestion that its ownership of Middlemarch Environmental was a conflict of interest. It stated that:

Middlemarch operates independently and its purpose is to ensure development activities are undertaken lawfully and protect and enhance our natural environment. Being a part of this conversation with organisations is key in ensuring the environment is protected. Middlemarch also adheres to strict ethical and environmental standards and assists Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in bringing wildlife back to the area and helping people to take positive action for nature.

Regarding its relationship to big businesses, the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust spokesperson said that:

Our view is that in order to tackle the climate and nature emergency we need to reach every stakeholder within society. Corporates and businesses are a key stakeholder with huge potential to make positive change, as well as being a conduit to millions of individuals who need to take action for nature and wildlife.

More specifically, the Trust representative argued that its corporate partnerships allow them to:

work to ensure compliance with legislation, promote best practice and also encourage corporates and business to go further than they are obliged to, with the aim of advancing conservation and environmental efforts.

Collaborating in environmental destruction

Guardian columnist George Monbiot has previously laid into leading conservation organisations for posturing to the profiteering whims of powerful businesses. Specifically, he named and shamed the RSPB, the Woodland Trust, and two local Wildlife Trusts. These groups collaborated on a rebranding exercise for a housing mega-project between Oxford and Cambridge.

Monbiot detailed how the non-profits had created promotional material for the government’s Oxford-Cambridge Arc. The project offers developers a house-building bonanza for the construction of over 2m new properties.

This is the crux of the matter: like the Wildlife Trusts, these national nature groups pander to the powers-that-be to instate minute mitigations. Yet in reality, they are collaborators in ecological destruction. When all is said and done, the proximity of the UK’s most prominent protectors of nature to the very businesses carrying out its destruction is a scandal.

The latest government backpedalling on EU river protections should be a firm warning. Conservation charities need to wake up, wise up, then rise up against the corporate harm they have enabled for too long.

Feature image via Albert Bridge/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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  • Show Comments
    1. Got to love the Canary.One day they are angry because there is a housing shortage.The next they are angry because the govt wont allow unlimited immigration and then they get angry because trees are felled to make room for new houses.Joined up thinking not the Canary’s strong point is it.

      1. Do you fail to understand what are quite simple concepts? The ‘housing shortage’ is not a shortage of houses being built, but that they are privately owned in a largely unregulated market that allows prices to rise uncontrollably. The British working class cannot afford to live where it needs to, in order to access work, child care, education and other resources. Housing as a financial asset is at the root of this. You know: capitalism.

    2. The whole rotten system is rigged in favour of profit over planet! I was unaware of how complicit all these so-called wildlife charities were in the destructive force of capitalism until reading this article. I fear, Hannah, that there is little chance of these trusts and charities wising up or rising up against the Taylor Wimpeys etc. They’re too busy scratching each other’s backs and laughing all the way to the bank. A shocking betrayal.

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