Chris Baines, British freelance enviro
Chris Baines is a “freelance environmentalist” who lives in Wolverhampton, U.K., two hours north of London by train. He spends most of his time forging unholy alliances between nonprofit organizations, the corporate sector, the government, and local communities. He is planning a major Earth Day launch in the U.K. in 2000.
Monday, 15 Nov 1999
Leave home in the dark to catch a train to London. There is a big push in Britain to get people out of their cars and onto public transport — which naturally I applaud, except that I’ve always used the train, and now it’s suddenly 20 percent more overcrowded and increasingly unreliable. It’s a two-hour trip to London if all goes well — and sometimes it does.
Today is the award ceremony for the annual Natural World Book Prize. I’m one of the judges and I have to say something by way of explanation to all of the eager writers and publishers. Forty-two entries this year, six on the shortlist, and just one winner. I wish I could say I read every book from cover to cover, but the best you can do in these circumstances is dip into all of them, stick with the ones that really grab you, and then swap notes with the four fellow judges. The field this year is very wide, and it’s a bit like comparing apples with oranges and chalk with cheese, but we do have a worthy winner — embargoed until tomorrow.
The Book Prize is sponsored by one of our biggest conservation charities — the Wildlife Trusts — and one of our biggest oil companies — BP Amoco. I’m on the panel because I’m a national vice president of the Wildlife Trusts and I actually won the very first Natural World Book Prize back in 1987, for The Wild Side of Town.
After a (slap-up) lunch, and a chance to meet (or avoid) the writers and publishers, off to a short planning meeting for Trees of Time and Place (ToTaP). This national campaign is almost three years old, and it takes up a great deal of my time. I’m paid to work an average of one day a week as the campaign’s principal adviser, by another major oil company, Esso UK.
ToTaP has evolved into an extraordinary partnership, with almost 100 national organisations combining forces and pooling resources behind a common aim. As a way of raising public awareness about the value of trees, the campaign is helping huge numbers of individuals mark the millennium by gathering seeds from a favourite tree, sowing them, and growing personal Trees of Time and Place. We have 2,500 schools Growing with Trees, over 600 planting sites earmarked to become permanent community landmark woodlands in the year 2000, and all manner of different organisations finding ways of using the simple ToTaP idea to reinforce their own environmental agendas. It’s just a month since “Seed Gathering Sunday” and this is a meeting to review successes (and a few failures). People really love the idea of gathering an acorn from an oak tree that may have been growing before the start of this millennium, and passing its seedling into the next, and this has been a bumper year for acorns.
In the evening I have a working dinner at the “terribly posh” Sloan Club, just around the corner from the famous King’s Road in Chelsea. Four years ago Britain discovered the lottery. Since then it has generated thousands of millions of pounds for “good causes” in the arts, sport, community, and heritage. Just over a year ago, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, appointed me as one of the 12 trustees of the Heritage Lottery Fund. We have an annual budget of about 300 million ($485 million) to spend — on museums, works of art, the natural heritage, city parks, and historic town centres. The monthly decision-making takes place tomorrow, but this evening the chairman has invited trustees to join him for dinner, and a chance for an informal discussion, without the pressure of a mountain of reports, referrals, refusals, and recommendations.
Most of my colleagues are “big cheeses” from the world of arty treasures, so I usually find myself championing local and natural heritage. They’re good company, the conversation is always stimulating, and we have enough money to really make a difference.
Overnight in a London hotel, with a two-inch-thick pile of papers to read before tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. I remember this is something I usually do in the train journey down each month — so no lie-in tomorrow after all.