Selling houses to save species – all in a day’s work for some

Connections are key to conservation success. All businesses – well all that I can think of anyway – are made and broken on the strength of the relationships between their staff and customers. It’s a simple truth, but one that I feel is often not given enough weight in the business of conservation.

As I type away, surrounded by colleagues who are developing and implementing scientifically-based action plans to conserve all manner of wildlife and wild places, I am in the process of overseeing the sale of a house – a house that was left to FFI by a very generous supporter, who undoubtedly understood the benefit it would bring.

Miss Helen Mackaness had a passion for the natural world and a concern for its protection. For Miss Mackaness, leaving this house to FFI was the best way to make a hugely positive impact on a cause that was so dear to her heart.

African elephant. Credit: Fauna & Flora International

The number of gifts from Wills we receive each year is growing, and while houses tend not to be commonplace for us, each gift, regardless of size, represents an act of faith in our ability to ensure these legacies make a difference to something people cared so much about in their life.

When you consider the trust people put in us, these gifts are quite profound. But there’s even more to them than that. Lately my colleagues and I have been discussing how these gifts are about making important connections.

Miss Mackaness’s gift certainly had plenty of connections. She heard our vice-president Sir David Attenborough talking on the radio about the plight of apes and the work FFI was doing to secure their future. That plea struck a chord with her and she made the decision to help, so we then connected her back to the source of her inspiration with a personal message of thanks.

There are greater connections than even this  – such as the links between Miss Mackaness’s gift and the nature and people who will ultimately benefit.

Kyrgyzstan. Credit: Ally Catterick/Fauna & Flora International

Until the money from the house sale is distributed, I can’t draw specific connections – but there are parallels with a gift made recently by another supporter. He had seen an orang-utan appeal that we produced a few years earlier and, like Miss Mackaness, had connected with the problem – the rapid decline in habitat from illegal logging, forest fires and oil palm conversion.

His gift made a real difference to our work – providing sustainability to the programme, helping us strengthen our staffing capacity to manage and deliver the programme, and allowing us to expand our Orang-utan Protection and Monitoring Teams. These teams consist of local community members, trained in law enforcement, forest fire prevention and educational methods to boost support among communities for orang-utan protection in their local forests.

Bornean orang-utan. Credit: Ally Catterick/FFI

That’s a remarkable connection – between a man from the UK who had never even visited Borneo and members of an indigenous community in an Indonesian forest. Local people now have employment because of his gift, they are educating their wider communities because of his gift, who of course are now protecting orang-utans. Because of his gift.

This man’s trust in us connects him over 7,000 miles to the people and orang-utans of Borneo. That connection will remain because the team’s gratitude for his gift saw them name a base camp in his honour.

Helen Mackaness’s gift will, in time, develop its own connections across thousands of miles. In fact, this act of faith connects everyone who chooses to support our work in similar ways.

Last year, well over one hundred people contacted us to let us know that FFI was being remembered in their Wills. Knowing this allows us to express our gratitude and hopefully even get to know more about what they’d like to see their name put to, in the shared fight to protect the natural world.