In 2015, World Land Trust (WLT) Patron and wildlife presenter Steve Backshall, raised over £50,000 to save rainforest by participating in the gruelling Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race. He vowed at the time that he would “never” take part in the race again; and who could blame him! The race, known as the “Canoeists Everest”, involves kayaking 125 miles non-stop from Devizes in Wiltshire to the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. It took Steve nearly 24-hrs to complete. Not the most relaxing way to spend your Easter weekend.
To coin a phrase first used by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers (1837) – “Never say Never”! Steve is, at this very moment, training for the 2017 race and this time he has decided to take his wife along. It helps that he just happens to be married to Olympic champion rower, Helen Glover
“We’re putting ourselves through hell”
Driven by the desire to save rainforest in the Lower Kinabatangan River of Malaysian Borneo, Steve comments: “We’re putting ourselves through hell training for it but it’s all for a very good cause. Our friends at World Land Trust are helping us buy a section of Bornean rainforest, saving it for the proboscis monkeys, the orangutans, the pygmy elephants and all the other astounding animals that live there.”
This prime habitat is home to some of the world’s most threatened wildlife, including the Bornean orangutan and Sunda pangolin both of which are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Like much of Borneo, this land is heavily fragmented by palm oil plantations. The WLT has been working with overseas partner HUTAN since 2008 to secure patches of orangutan habitat in the area.
In 2014, WLT raised one million pounds to secure the ‘Keruak Corridor’ in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain of Sabah, a critically important strip of forest along the north bank of the Kinabatangan River. It has now set its sights on acquiring more parcels of land in the area to secure it for conservation and prevent further deforestation of this vital habitat.
Steve and Helen are, through this selfless act, playing a significant role in helping the WLT achieve this goal. As John Burton WLT CEO comments, “Corridors are critically important pieces of land when you are trying to protect a landscape, particularly when there are large mammals (such as Borneo’s pygmy elephants and orangutans) in the habitat. In an area as fragmented by human activities as the Borneo Rainforest, almost every single piece of natural forest is crucial for the long-term survival of the species living there.
“Steve and Helen’s support for this project has been so valuable, not just because they are raising funds for us to protect strategic pieces of land which will help buffer and connect much larger reserves, but also because they are raising awareness of the effect of mankind on the fragmentation of such an important habitat.”
“Corridors are critically important pieces of land”
In the video publicising the launch, Helen says, “You can help us fundraise over the next six weeks of our training, and follow us all the way through to our race on Easter weekend. Together we can save this very special and important chunk of rainforest forever.”
Steve, who shakes his head at the beginning of the video as if he has just had a flashback to 2015, adds to his earlier comment, “From the cicadas that deafen you at dusk, to the fireflies that light up the riverside like a thousand Christmas trees, this place is paradise. Let’s work together to protect it, forever.”
The campaign has got off to a flying start with over £8,000 raised at the time of this article being published.
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