Royal Corner

A Shot, Not for The Moon, But The Earth

How vital is Prince William to the world of environmentalism? What does the future look like for our beloved planet and all life who call it home? We spoke to those with the answers.

OCTOBER 10th, 2020

Portrait of Prince William for The Earthshot Prize - © ITV


he Duke of Cambridge’s passionate advocacy for protecting our natural world has become one of a number of pillars on which his royal life is built upon. Throughout his 38 years, he has not only brought awareness to the world of the Illegal Wildlife Trade, the senseless and barbaric destruction of some of our planet’s most breath-taking species, or the increasingly irreversible damage to our ecosystems and biodiversity – most importantly – he has refused to sit around and solely wait for others to provide the solutions to stop these archaic problems in their tracks.

He has launched taskforces; bringing global enterprises together to pledge their commitment to banning the illegal trade of wildlife. Standing on the world stage, the Duke has targeted some of the most powerful individuals in politics and commerce to take responsibility, and in areas, accountability for the needless desolation of our most cherished natural landscapes. His impact has been felt far and wide, both through local initiatives and global enterprises, and that influence seems to be growing year after year.

But how vital is Prince William to the world of environmentalism? What benefit has his involvement created? And ultimately, for the wider world in which his work is currently focused, what does the future look like for our beloved planet and all life who call it home?

The Earthshot Prize launch video - © The Earthshot Prize

Speaking to those who know William well, both personally and professionally, the answers to the first two questions are undeniable – he has become a leading figure, who when he speaks, the world listens. For the third question, the future looks bright, giving we all continue to fight to keep it that way.

Colin Butfield, WWF Executive Director of ‘Our Planet’ – the stunning Netflix nature series narrated by Sir David Attenborough – stated that the Duke had “long championed conservation issues and in particular used his convening power to impact issues around the wildlife trade.”

That power has since been put to use once again, this time with the launch of The Earthshot Prize – the most prestigious global environmental award in history. The initiative continues a running theme that the Duke has long held, teamwork – bringing people and organisations together to effect meaningful change. It is an incentive which has worked well in the past and according to Butfield, William has taken his activism “to another level, bringing together individuals and organisations from every part of the world to accelerate the solutions needed to repair our planet in a decade.”

Yet, for the prince, his acknowledgment of the problems and accompanying solutions stems back further than 2018, when the idea of The Earthshot Prize was first explored. In 2012, he spearheaded ‘United for Wildlife’, a convening taskforce of leading wildlife charities, governments and corporations from around the world to create a global movement for change. With over 120 transport companies and 38 Financial corporations, each signing a declaration to strengthen defences in illegal wildlife trafficking, William said, “By implementing these commitments the signatories can secure a game changer in the race against extinction. I thank them for their commitment, and I invite any other company in the industry to sign up to the Buckingham Palace declaration and play their part in the fight against the poaching crisis.”

William’s impressive work roots its origins throughout many experiences in his life, yet a particular gap year in Africa as a teenager, ignited a love and passion of the environment and continent in general. That visit led him to a particular charity who has proudly called him their patron for nearly fifteen years – Tusk. Since 2005, Prince William has partnered with the charity on their fight to ensure the protection of not only endangered species across the globe, but their habitats too.

Charlie Mayhew MBE pictured with the Duke of Cambridge - © Tusk Trust

Speaking to Charlie Mayhew MBE, Co-Founder and CEO of Tusk, it is clear just how huge the prince’s impact has been on promoting the charities message. “From the moment he very kindly chose us to be our patron – we were lucky enough to be one of the first two charities that he attached himself to – we can track very visibly the way in which our revenue exponentially grew over the years,” says Charlie. “The wonderful thing for us is that this is a cause that he is passionate about and he has a very deep knowledge for, so the great thing is that whenever he speaks out, or addresses the media, there is an instant recognition amongst the people listening that this is something which really means a great deal to him, and that really helps to communicate the urgency and the need for the work that we do.”

That urgency has become much more prevalent in recent years, and the Duke has refused to shy away from the challenge ahead. In 2015, Charlie accompanied the Duke to China where he met with President Xi Jinping and appealed to end the illegal wildlife trade. “That undoubtedly left its mark,” he says. “Now, Prince William would never claim that he was the one to turn President Xi’s mind, but no doubt he has considerable influence, and the fantastic thing is, he has the ability to open doors and to speak to people in power on these issues.”

The “considerable influence” Charlie mentions resulted in China introducing a domestic ban on the ivory trade, something initially thought impossible. “If you speak to people in the conservation world, five years ago if we had said we thought we could get China to do that – none of us would have believed it,” admits Charlie. “It always felt that it was too big of a nut to crack, but that hasn't proved to be the case and I think the role that Prince William played in that can’t be underestimated.”

But the fight against the illegal poaching of ivory, whilst making strides in some areas, is proving there is still much more work to be done. In 2018, both William and Charlie were on the road again, visiting a warehouse in Tanzania housing 43,000 elephant tusks. The visit was recently shared in the ITV documentary Prince William: A Planet For Us All and actively showcased how established the illegal wildlife trade is. The footage showed a visibly emotional William, which not only highlighted his deep-held passion for the cause against poaching, but also the sheer scale of the overall problem. For Charlie, William’s personal and emotive response only highlights why he is the perfect ambassador, not only for Tusk, but for the wider cause.

“He’s been able to walk into meetings with President Obama, President Xi and the British Government,” says Charlie, “and he’s really leant huge weight to driving the arguments and ultimately creating substantial impact.” China’s decision to ban the ivory trade is a significant element of that aforementioned substantial impact, with the price of ivory plummeting in the immediate aftermath of President Xi’s decision. “We have seen a significant downturn of the poaching of elephants in most parts of the world – not everywhere – but most parts. It’s not been eradicated by any stretch of the imagination, but if you talk to most of the public, people are very aware that it is a cause that means a lot to the prince and he’s helped get the message across without a doubt.”

Prince William Appeals To People Of China To End Illegal Wildlife Trade, 2015 - © Sky News

Although tackling governments and the powerful players to help combat the illegal wildlife trade is an important section of the Duke of Cambridge’s work, he also acknowledges with equal focus the localised efforts being made. It is an approach which sits in perfect partnership with Tusk. “It’s something which is at the very heart of Tusk’s philosophy,” Charlie explains, “which is another reason why Prince William was so willing to be our patron. At the heart of the majority of the projects we support, is the need to engage with local communities, to find ways to provide benefits to those communities from conservation and wildlife, and to allow them to view the wildlife as their asset and not as a threat. For us, the involvement of communities is vital.”

This recognition of localised efforts has had a positive effect on both the protection of endangered species, but also those on the ground, fighting for their survival. Benson Kanyembo, a park ranger on Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park and winner of the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award in 2019 – an award initiated by the Duke of Cambridge – described the influence, saying, “When I started my work, I started as a junior person who never thought they would be recognised, and it has sent a different message. Everyone, those who feel like they’re left out, now they are working hard. They know people are looking at them. One day they’ll be recognised. So, it’s a big morale booster to all the rangers, not only in Africa, all Zambia. The whole of Africa, everyone is appreciating.”

There is no doubt, that for Prince William, there have been many individuals who have influenced his ethos of work and the direction of his conservation efforts. Noting his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, and father, The Prince of Wales, both have inspired the prince throughout his life. But whilst it is fair to acknowledge The Royal Family’s ties to the protection of the environment, Charlie believes there is another facet to William’s determination. “He has developed a very deep love of the continent [of Africa], the people and its wildlife, and I think that will always be the case. It has undoubtedly influenced his thinking that has more recently led to The Earthshot Prize and the recent documentary, where its messaging was coming through loud and clear. A lot of that has been influenced – obviously – by his grandfather and father, but also from his own travels, particularly to Africa.”

On the subject of The Earthshot Prize, the most recent initiative being led by the Duke of Cambridge and The Royal Foundation this year, Charlie doesn’t stress enough how significant the award is. “I think it’s a really key moment,” he says. “I mean, Prince William is himself saying – and rightly so – alongside Sir David Attenborough, that this next decade is really critical to whether humankind has got the political will – we know the solutions, actually – its now, have we got the collective will to implement the policies, to reverse the degradation and destruction of the natural world and our environment?

“Within ten years we are likely to hit a tipping point where that change becomes irreversible and that’s really what The Earthshot Prize is all about. Also, I think, we’ve got to get to a position where people don’t see climate change, the environment, conservation, and even our wellbeing or health, as separate issues – they’re not. They’re all interconnected, and if there is any, sort of, silver lining in this dreadful covid-19 pandemic, it is that maybe, just maybe, there is a greater realisation of how all of these things are linked.”

With the introduction of The Earthshot Prize, the United for Wildlife Taskforce and Tusk’s continuing work, Prince William has certainly built a formidable catalogue of avenues to tackle the issues facing our environment. These outlets have enabled him to promote a positive, solution-based approach to these challenges, but where are we now? What obstacles continue to stand in our way?

Benson Kanyembo, 2019 Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award winner. - © Tusk Trust

Two words – “The pandemic,” says Charlie. “In many respects, it has given a degree of relief to some of that illegal wildlife trade, because during the lockdowns, travel restrictions and everything else, has made it much more difficult for the international criminal syndicates who control this trade and move the products around. But saying that – we have more recently started to see signs of an increase in rhino poaching again down in southern Africa, which is a worry.”

The biggest impact has mostly been on the livelihoods of the local communities, highlighting Charlie’s words how these issues are all interconnected. “People losing their jobs, being made redundant, in a continent like Africa, where there is no social security or government furlough scheme to back them up, has resulted in, sadly, a significant uptick in bushmeat poaching – basically for people to survive and put food on the table.”

This has led to a significant increase in snaring, illegal logging for firewood and charcoal burning – actions which are all survival related and which subsequently continue a level of impact on the natural world.

Although the pandemic has caused numerous problematic hurdles, in terms of pre-covid, there were still many areas of concern, and specifically against one species of animal many people are unaware is in serious danger.

“One species that most people are surprised to learn about, which is under huge threat, is the African lion,” Charlie says, and the statistics are sobering to say the least. There is predicted to be below 25,000, possibly even 20,000 African lions in the wild today – that is a number less than the endangered rhino. For Charlie, it is a shocking indictment of how humans have destroyed our habitats. “The lions have always been persecuted by farmers because they’re a threat to the livestock, but what’s exacerbated the situation in recent years has also been a growing trade in lion parts – lion bone, lion claws, teeth and things like that.”

It is believed the problem has stemmed for an increase in demand from places like the Far East, where the precluded trade in Tiger parts has become much more difficult to get.

Prince William visited Mkomazi National Park in 2018. - © KensingtonRoyal/Instagram

The pandemic has caused problems across the entire world of conservation, and Tusk, sadly, has also been affected by the fallout. Supporting a diverse spectrum of conservation, from rhino, elephant, lion, gorilla and turtle, to everything in-between, the lockdown forced the charity to immediately write-off around £2 million of revenue. “When we went into lockdown, it was a disaster, like it was for every charity,” reveals Charlie. “We had to write off all of our plans for any big fundraising events.”

One event which did go ahead was the Wildlife Ranger Challenge – a 21km virtual half-marathon, which saw over 2,000 rangers from 20 countries, and members of the public from across 80 countries take part and run in solidarity with the affected rangers. Earlier in the year, the Duke of Cambridge took part in a similar virtual marathon for the Lewa Safari on behalf of Tusk. “This is not a race, there is no stop-watch. It is our way of showing Africa’s conservation community, that we are all in this together,” he said in a video to launch the virtual marathon.

The marathon has provided a semblance of a lifeline for Tusk after a major philanthropist donated a $5 million challenge grant. Thanks to the generous donation the charity has been able to send out $2 million worth of vital grants to those areas affected by the pandemic. Whilst covid hasn’t hit them as hard as they initially feared, there is still concern for the future. “We are concerned about what happens next year,” Charlie warns. “Because as this continues and we come off the furlough schemes and the economic fallout and recession begins to bite, it’s very difficult to know.”

The economic fallout is the leading concern for the conservation world in Africa, instead of the virus itself. “The travel restrictions and lockdowns have been devastating to the economies,” says Charlie. “In terms of conservation, all the safari tourism industry – the lodges and the camps and all the parks – overnight their income fell off a cliff and a lot of that revenue helps to underpin the protection of these reserves and support the rangers and help to pay for the park system.

“The huge worry is how long this will continue, because the fear is that it may take a while for the pre-covid tourism levels to bounce back and recover.”

The future of the environment, and the protection of the natural world, is one embedded in the rediscovery of a balance between human interaction with our natural world and the species with which occupy it – to effectively find a way to enjoy these animals without harvesting them. For Prince William and Charlie, there is one threat which is blocking that balance – the loss of our habitats.

Prince William: A Planet For Us All trailer - © ITV

The continent of Africa has a human population of 1.8 billion people. By 2050, that number is set to double to 2.8 billion, resulting in immense pressure and demand on the land for development and cultivation for agriculture over the next 30 years. “We need to hang onto these forests,” warns Charlie, “to these natural areas to soak the carbon, to protect us from the impact of climate change. Loss of habitat is really one of the biggest threats to the natural world that we’re facing over the next two to three decades.”

Although there is much to be concerned over; the Duke of Cambridge’s positive and optimistic outlook, shown vividly through his ITV documentary and The Earthshot Prize, is one which is shared by Tusk. That optimism is aimed at the young people – the generation who will inherit the world left behind. For Charlie, that’s where his hope lies. “There’s been a step-change in the engagement of young people and the pressure that they are beginning to rightly put on the older generation and lead us,” he says. “Look at the just what Greta Thunberg has done – it’s been extraordinary.

“I’ve always said that to be a conservationist, you have to be an eternal optimist, because if you look at the stats, they’re not too encouraging and therefore when you wake up in the morning you’ve to believe that it’s possible to change things.”

So, where does that change come from?

“From what I see,” admits Charlie. “The impact of our investment, the grants that we give to support the projects on the ground and the achievements they are making – but we’ve got to do a whole lot more.”

It is here where Prince William’s work is perhaps most vital, and with The Earthshot Prize, it has begun to place the issue of our environment higher up the political agenda. “I’m afraid we’re arrogant and we’re greedy,” Charlie concludes, “and the trouble about these environmental issues is that because we are not staring over the cliff today, and although the warnings are there, due to our human nature, we tend to push back and say “we’ll deal with that in due course, we’ve got bigger problems to fry right now”. But actually, we are fast approaching a tipping point in which we can’t come back. That’s really what I hope the younger generation can really continue to force through and win that argument, because my goodness, we need to.”

Much of the Duke’s work has been called a defining moment for Prince William, and whilst for many that is true and although I’ve never personally met the future king, I’m not so sure he’d fully agree. Instead, I’m sure he sees this decade of action to repair the earth as a defining moment for us all; to enact change; to continue the exceptional work begun by Charlie Mayhew MBE and Tusk, Colin Butfield and the WWF, Benson Kanyembo and the countless unnamed wildlife rangers, Sir David Attenborough and the younger generations; to see-through the implementation of the solutions we know are needed – to shoot, not for the moon, but the Earth we all call home.

-To learn more about the important work done by Tusk, you can visit their website here.

-To learn more about United For Wildlife Taskforce, you can visit their website here.

-To read more information on the launch of The Earthshot Prize, you can visit their website here.

-To read more about the work of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Royal Foundation, you can visit their website here.

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