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WATCH: Durrell launches ‘wild’ carbon offset scheme

WATCH: Durrell launches ‘wild’ carbon offset scheme

Thursday 01 July 2021

WATCH: Durrell launches ‘wild’ carbon offset scheme


Durrell has launched its own carbon offset scheme that will allow individuals and businesses to cancel their carbon footprint by 'rewilding' threatened ecosystems that are rich in wildlife.

The charity has launched 'Rewild Carbon' Credits, which are available to purchase at a cost of £25. Each will sequester one tonne of CO2e, which a customer can use to balance their carbon emissions.

The charity said that species-rich forests can sequester up to 40 times more carbon than monocultures. The first 'Rewild Carbon' project will take place in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, one of the richest, most biodiverse and threatened habitats on the planet which holds 7% of the world’s species.

Durrell will be working with local partners IPE (Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas), with whom they have partnered for many years, to restore 5,000 hectares of new forest through forest corridors and agroforestry. In total, the project aims to plant seven million trees, from over 100 different native species. 

The tree corridors will not only provide lifelines for threatened wildlife including black lion tamarins, jaguars, and ocelots, but also provide income for nature-dependent communities in the area as they will be grown in community-run nurseries.

Video: The first 'Rewild Carbon' project will take place in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil.

Dr Lesley Dickie, Durrell’s CEO, recently discussed the initiative with Express...

What are the differences between Rewild Carbon, and ‘standard’ carbon offset schemes?

A lot of what you could call ‘standard offsets’ in the market involve tree planting, and are predicated around lowest common denominator projects. They are cheap, but cheap for a reason. 

Often you get mono-culture plantations, single species stands, more akin to ‘crops’ than functional forests. They are often then felled as these are plantations, with little biodiversity, devoid of what you would expect to see and hear in a functioning forest. 

In comparison, we are planting over a hundres distinct species of trees, planted to create structure in the growing forest, with hardy species at the edges and more vulnerable trees towards the middle. 

Once the forest starts to grow there will also be natural regeneration via seed dispersal, as species such as birds use the newly planted forests. Our projects include agro-forestry, such as shade-grown coffee bringing an income to local communities, so they derive real benefit from the newly planted forest, making it a win for carbon, biodiversity, and people. 

A truly functioning forest sequesters up to 40 times more carbon than a  plantation of trees, and there is no comparison when it comes to biodiversity. However, the key difference is that is has the conservation of a species on the brink of extinction at its heart – not many other schemes can claim this.

What can Durrell - in particular - bring to this? 

We have been sequestering carbon for decades– we simply have not communicated it in these terms. 

Across the world we have thousands of hectares of forest under our protection, so this is not new in that sense. However, we are now wanting to scale up our efforts, because the planet needs us all to take immediate action if we are to avert worst case scenarios of both biodiversity loss and climate change. 

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Pictured: "Our species conservation expertise is world-renowned in the conservation sector," Dr Dickie said.

Our species conservation expertise is world-renowned in the conservation sector, and we bring that expertise to this project, a skillset that few offset projects can hope to match. We have proven repeatedly that we can halt extinctions in our target species, and we aim to do the same across our Rewild Carbon projects. We also team up with in-country NGO’s who bring specific knowledge, and this first Rewild Carbon project links with our long-term Brazilian partners IPE (Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas) We have worked with them for many years and there is great trust and commitment between our two organisations. 

Tell us about your first specific project, in the Atlantic rainforest. 

This first Rewild Carbon project plants trees to connect fragmented habitats where the last remaining Black Lion Tamarins on Earth are found. The Atlantic Forest in Brazil is an amazing place, older than the Amazon, highly biodiverse, but alarmingly threatened. By creating complex ‘corridors’ up to ½ km wide of tropical forest which involves planting 7 million trees in a strategic manner by 2030, we create a functioning system again, allowing for species movement between the currently fragmented patches.

Putting function back into ecosystems is the bedrock of rewilding. The seedlings are planted then nurtured for three years, and if a young tree dies it gets replaced, thereby ensuring good forest growth. At the same time, we have set targets for education with local schools, income for local communities, and recovering threatened species. This is carbon plus, plus, plus.

What would you say to the sceptics who doubt how much of their contribution reaches where it is needed?

The first thing I would say is to remind interested parties that Durrell is a not-for-profit. We ensure the maximum amount of money reaches nature in our projects and 95% of funds spent on Rewild Carbon go straight to nature, with no intermediaries and profiteering.  

Compare this to some other offsets, where alarmingly small amounts of funds end up in the actual project.  In addition, Durrell is a science-led organisation, and we take monitoring and evaluation very seriously. We believe we are the only conservation organisation in the world who have an organisational-level impact factor, the Durrell Index. It is also our peers who recognise that we are highly effective. 

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Pictured: The seedlings will be planted and nurtured for three years.

In a scientific paper published in 2020 looking at all bird and mammal avoided extinctions in the past 30 years, Durrell was the lead organisation, or a key partner, in nearly 20%. For a small organisation we punch way above our weight when it comes to making real impact. For any organisation interested in Rewild Carbon we have a project design document which details how we have set up the project, how carbon sequestered is measured, the carbon registry we run to ensure carbon cannot be sold twice, and the further aspects of the project around community and biodiversity. 

And, of course, for a business in Jersey why ‘buy carbon’ via an anonymous platform when you could have a partnership with an on-island, world-renowned organisation where you can sit down and discuss the project in detail.

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Pictured: Jersey Zoo provides free entry for school children at the zoo.

I am sure people have seen projects in the press, say seed scattering, or a million trees planted in a week and so on. But how many seedlings survive, what is the aftercare, what are the biodiversity and community goals? 

Biodiversity, and climate change, are obviously serious issues in Jersey too - how is Durrell helping here?

We take several approaches in Jersey, starting with the free school lessons and free entry for school children at the zoo. We are the only zoo in the British Isles who provides this. Our recent work measuring the ‘nature connectedness’ of Jersey schoolchildren is giving us a baseline to follow-up over the following years. Connectedness is the starting point for nature positive behaviours and that is what we encourage via our work at the zoo. We then also have specific species projects on island, the Agile Frog head-starting programme and the Chough reintroduction at Sorel. 

For the frog programme we release thousands of young frogs that we have reared at the zoo every year into suitable habitat, bolstering the wild population. The Choughs, a species missing from the island for over 100 years, is now establishing itself around the island, breeding in the wild, and this year we now have seen one take up home in France.  

Our expertise in this project is being sought out by groups in the UK who want to bring choughs back and we have also advised on the Hawaiian crow reintroduction. 

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Pictured: Red-billed coughs were reintroduced in the island as part of a partnership project between Durrell, the National Trust and the Government’s land resource management team.

Back at the zoo we are measuring our emissions and seeing where we can make reductions. Where we currently cannot make reductions, we offset into the wild, planting trees in our Rewild Carbon project! Energy sources like solar panels and air source heat pumps are replacing fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and we will continue to identify opportunities to improve.

How can you make the benefits of the initiative tangible for local people, here?

We will use a variety of ways to help bring the project to life, such as camera traps in the growing forest to capture wildlife using the corridors, and sound recordings to hear the noises of the forest. 

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Pictured: Durrell says it is not interested in businesses looking for 'greenwashing' opportunities.

Satellite imagery and drone photography will detail the spread of the corridors linking habitats. One of the problems with talking about carbon sequestration is that people don’t understand what a tonne of carbon is or what it looks like. In contrast, growing a rainforest, particularly in a tropical climate where trees grow quickly, which are highly biodiverse and which sequester carbon faster than trees in a temperate climate, is real and tangible. 

When do you say, ‘job done’?

I think we can say job done when we can step back from the forest, and it functions on its own without our intervention. That is the essence of rewilding – we need to put back all the building blocks now, both plant and animal species, but one day of course we want to be able to walk away. 

Is there a danger that people might relax their efforts to cut carbon, knowing they are paying Durrell to ‘offset’ it? 

That is exactly what we do not want, and if a company is only interested in carrying on business as usual, and using this as a form of ‘greenwash’ then this is not the project for them. 

We want to work with our partners to cut emissions and payback the existing emissions, that you cannot yet eliminate, via Rewild Carbon Our very existence as individuals and companies means we have carbon emissions, we cannot get away from that, and ideally, we want companies to go beyond their emissions levels and be carbon positive, not just carbon neutral i.e., sequester more than they use and therefore make a real investment in nature for the benefit of society.

It is estimated that nature provides $44 trillion a year of goods and services to economies, let alone the safe space in which the human species can survive. If that is not worth the return on investment of putting some profits back in, then what is?

We are entering a world where mandatory climate disclosures by companies will be a matter of regulation, as is already happening in countries like New Zealand. Just in the past month the UN Task Force on Nature-based Financial Disclosures was launched, and mandatory disclosures around biodiversity will be part of our future. Company profit and loss statements will include climate, biodiversity, and community, not only pounds sterling and dollars. 

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Pictured: "The companies that will thrive into the future are the ones who do not wait to be forced but the ones who embrace it now and start making the steps to measure and then mitigate their impacts," Dr Dickie said.

We will also see increasing litigation against companies that do not take a percentage of their profits and put that back into mitigating their impacts, as was seen in the recent Shell ruling in the Netherlands.

The companies that will thrive into the future are the ones who do not wait to be forced but the ones who embrace it now and start making the steps to measure and then mitigate their impacts. They will be the companies that the public want to buy from and that the brightest young people will want to work for, the talent will flow to companies that have purpose as well as profit.

How is the carbon-gain tracked, monitored, and reported on for people who contribute?

We have set up a carbon registry to ensure that the same carbon stock cannot be sold twice. We have also put in place generous ‘insurance’ buffers to ensure that if there is natural forest loss (e.g., lightning strike causing forest fires) then that is already accounted for. We will measure the carbon via satellite tracking of tree cover but additionally ‘ground-truthed’ by measuring trees, their circumference, their height and so on to understand carbon captured. 

We have reduced our carbon estimates by 20% on purpose to ensure we are being conservative.  We will issue reports to partner companies each year that will detail how their investment in the planet is getting on, with updates on trees planted, carbon sequestered, species measured, community members engaged, schools' programmes and so on. These will be rich reports allowing companies to create real value when reporting to their shareholders, boards, and other stakeholders.

This feature first appeared in Connect Magazine. Click HERE to read it in full.

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