David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation - Saving the world's wildlife, from Surrey
PUBLISHED: 10:55 02 May 2014 | UPDATED: 13:50 22 April 2015
Home to the WWF-UK, Sir David Attenborough and Born Free’s Virginia McKenna, Surrey surprisingly hosts some of the world’s top wildlife conservationists. Yet another local organisation battling to save endangered species is the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, who celebrate their 30th anniversary this year
Celebrating 30 years in wildlife conservation, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is based out of an unassuming building in the small Surrey village of Shalford. Here, a small team working above the charity’s shop dedicate their time to helping to save endangered species around the world.
“We may be small but we pack a punch,” says DSWF chief executive, Sally Case.
With its roots very much in anti-poaching and park protection - areas that have traditionally been hard to fund but are vital in today’s war on wildlife crime - the foundation has notched up some impressive successes.
“We are the sole NGO funder of an ambitious and dangerous undercover operation to find and convict one of the world’s most notorious illegal wildlife traffickers,” says Sally.
“With his deputy behind bars, the investigation to find the kingpin and to dismantle his syndicate continues. That the US Government has put a $1,000,000 price tag on his head high-lights the worldwide significance of this work.”
With wildlife crime now worth an estimated $19 billion a year the fight to close down trafficking networks has to be seen as a priority.
“Old traditions and new money in the Far East are driving a rapacious demand for wildlife products,” says Sally. “In 2013, over 1,000 rhino were killed for their horn in South Africa alone and we continue to lose an elephant every 15 minutes to ivory poachers. The world seems to be waking up to this crisis and that is extremely positive but our job is to maintain the interest, maintain the passion and maintain the funding long after the world’s media has turned its lens away from the global forums led by heads of state.”
An animal passion
Passion is something that is never in short supply at DSWF. Founded by the wildlife artist turned conservationist, David Shepherd CBE (the CBE awarded in 2009 for his services to wildlife conservation) at 83 he is still very much leading the fight to save the animals that he loves.
“I launched the foundation in 1984 to help give something back to the animals that helped give me so much success as an artist,” says David Shepherd. “We have fought hard, often against the odds, and won some serious conservation battles, including saving the Amur tiger from certain extinction when numbers dropped to about 100 in the 1990s. Today there is a stable population of about 450 Amur tigers but we have to keep fighting to protect them and their habitat.”
But what of the elephants that so many associate David Shepherd with? His ‘Wise Old Elephant’ graced the wall of the Peckham flat in Only Fools and Horses and his prints sold by the thousands through the 70s and 80s.
“I love elephants, they are the most amazing, sentient creatures and to see their numbers being decimated by poachers simply breaks my heart,” he says.
A long-time supporter of conservation in Zambia, the foundation established the first elephant orphanage in the country to help rescue, rehabilitate and return to the wild the victims of the illegal ivory trade.
Most recently featured on the ITV1 series, Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans, the orphanage symbolises both hope for the future of the orphaned elephants but also a growing problem.
“As long as there are poachers there will be a need to run projects like the elephant orphanage,” continues Sally. “But the orphanage does not exist in isolation. It is part of a larger project that includes education, community outreach and park protection programmes that help raise awareness of the issues, provide alternative livelihoods and ensure that wild habitats are safe for the animals to be released back into.
“Conservation is never as simple as keeping animals alive. It’s about working with the communities that share an animal’s landscape to ensure as harmonious and as sustainable a future for everyone involved. And that is what is at the heart of the projects that DSWF funds.”
Half a world away?
Relating the survival of elephants and tigers to life in Surrey (or anywhere in the UK) isn’t always easy.
“What’s important to realise is that the loss of these apex animals is critical to the health of the whole planet,” says David Shepherd. “Elephants are known as the architects of their landscapes and wider biodiversity and tigers, and other top carnivores, play a crucial role in maintaining a perfect balance of the animals and landscapes they inhabit. What we also need to understand is that man is responsible for the current crisis and that it is man who must act to reverse it.”
With a strong and loyal supporter base DSWF is keen to expand its message and to increase funding for vital conservation projects around the world.
One way that the Foundation is doing this is through TigerTime, a campaign to save the tiger in the wild that was launched on David’s 80th birthday in 2011 and now has a huge global following mainly through its social media platforms.
Add to this success a host of tiger loving celebrity supporters like Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley, Pamela Anderson, Naomi Harris, Sir Paul McCartney and Deborah Meaden (the list goes on and on!) and you have a campaign with some punch.
“We’re very proud of what we achieve with such a small team,” says Sally. “Of course, it would be wonderful to have more staff but our aim is to ensure that 100 per cent of donations to specific projects goes in full, with no administration costs removed, to where it is needed most; to the front line of wildlife conservation.”
The Foundation raises funds and awareness in a number of ways and, with an artist founder, there is still a strong connection with wildlife art.
Each year DSWF runs its Wildlife Artist of the Year competition that generates hundreds of entries vying for the £10,000 sponsored top prize and for a space at the summer exhibition at the prestigious Mall Galleries in London. Art also, of course, forms the mainstay of the DSWF Gallery in Shalford.
The next time you are passing through this small riverside village near Guildford, remember that the future of some of the most iconic species on the planet is being fought for from your doorstep.
You’ll find the DSWF gallery and charity office at 7 Kings Road, Shalford GU4 8JU. For more information, visit the websites davidshepherd.org and tigertime.info
FURTHER WILDLIFE READING
• British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield - a wild day out in Surrey
• The new WWF headquarters in Woking: one of the UK’s greenest buildings and a new Surrey attraction
• Actress Virginia McKenna on Born Free, life in Coldharbour and her memoirs, The Life in My Years
• Nicholas Owen meets Wildlife Aid’s Simon Cowell
• Surrey Wildlife Trust has a monthly column in Surrey Life magazine