Ben Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conservation Collective, a network he is building of locally focused environmental foundations around the world. Each foundation is apolitical, independent, not for profit, and privately funded by individuals and businesses who love and rely on a certain place that they want to protect and preserve. He is creating a global network with access to proven solutions. Ben is also the co-founder of WHEB Asset Management, a leading sustainable investment management business.
1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Richmond, on the outskirts of London, between Richmond Park – a landscape unchanged for centuries – and the hundred acre Ham Common woodland. So whilst it wasn’t countryside, it felt like it to me, and I grew up with a close connection to the natural world.
2. How did a sense of environmental sustainability come into your life?
All my life I have felt a deep love for nature. I spent my childhood creeping out at dawn with my older brother Zac to look for fox cubs and badgers, putting up bird boxes, looking for nests, creating little ponds and watching them accumulate life, tearing about in the woods. And I have watched with dismay as the natural fabric of our country (and the whole world) has grown ever more depleted.
3. Which long standing sustainability practice or habit has significantly improved your life?
Spending time in nature on a regular basis has meant that I find beauty wherever I am. Seeking connection with nature, walking, looking for wildlife, creating new habitats, these things have been my calling, and have given me a tremendous sense of solace during the hard times, and of fulfillment.
4. Is there a new one you are cultivating now?
I have always loved wild swimming. Recently we have created a series of natural ponds along the stream that runs through our farm and now I’m obsessed – going down to swim first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening.
5. Which environment- or nature-oriented podcast would you recommend and why?
I adored Patrick Holden’s interview with Isabella Tree. Isabella and her husband Charlie Burrell took the momentous decision to return their enormous intensive farm, Knepp, in Sussex, to nature. The results have been extraordinarily exciting, and have turned both traditional conservation and conventional land management on their heads.
6. Which book would you recommend to people who want to be more environmentally conscious and “become the change they want to see in the world” (Ghandi)?
Wilding, Isabella Tree’s book, 2019 bestseller which tells the Knepp story is a must-read, which will greatly enhance your understanding of how the natural world works. I loved it.
7. Whose environmental or conservation work do you most admire?
I adore Derek Gow, Britain’s leading expert in the reintroduction of missing species to our landscapes. Derek is pioneering the return across Britain of water-voles (missing from most of their range), beavers (extinct in Britain for 400 years), white storks (extinct in Britain for 300 years) and wildcats.
8. Which internet resource would you recommend that you find consistently helpful and beneficial?
I adore the website of Rewilding Europe, the leading nature restoration organisation in Europe. This is a treasure-trove of good news stories from our own continent!
9. Is there anything you try to keep in mind each day with regard to environmental sustainability?
There strike me as three key ways in which ordinary folks can contribute to the effort to restore the natural world: 1) how they vote; 2) how they spend their money day to day; and 3) by supporting an environmental organisation (which very few people actually do).
10. Which environmental change would you most like the next generation to experience?
Shifting baseline syndrome describes the way in which each of us yearns for nature to be back how it was when we were young, not realising that by then the natural world was already terribly depleted. Thereby with each passing generation expectations diminish. I long for the next generation to experience the kind of natural abundance known to our grandparents and great-grandparents.
11. What is the best advice you ever had on sustainability or the environment, and who gave it to you?
My son Frankie, a fellow nature lover, persuaded me last year to rewild our farm fully, rather than simply making space for nature around the edges. This decision has transformed the landscape in which we live, and has changed all of our lives for the better.
12. What is the best way to captivate the next generation on the topic of sustainability?
All children are born with an innate fascination with the natural world. Find me a toddler who isn’t transfixed by a frog. The single most important task for us adults is to nourish this love that they have, by spending time with them in nature.
13. Which current sustainability stories give you the most hope?
The return of Europe’s iconic wildlife – wolves, bears, bison, lynx, golden jackals – in some of the most developed countries in the world is, in my view, a magical story of nature recovery. You can read all about this on the website of Rewilding Europe!
14. Which aspect of nature, or which animal, gives you the greatest sense of awe?
The beaver is the ultimate keystone species. By building dams in the streams and creeks throughout river catchments beavers create new ribbon wetlands that hold back rainfall, reducing flooding, drought and even wildlife, whilst breathing life back into the ecosystem. Butterflies, songbirds, wild flowers, amphibians and life of all kinds teem in huge abundance in beaver-created wetlands.
15. What was the most impactful, transformative or enriching travel experience of your life so far, and why?
I visited Sri Lanka in 2017 and couldn’t believe my eyes. Here is an island the size of Ireland, with four times the population of Ireland, that has vast intact forests that teem with life. Whilst Ireland is now a nature desert which balks at the idea of reintroducing vital missing species such as wolves, Sri Lankans – who nurture a deep spiritual connection to nature – continue to live alongside leopards and elephants!
16. Where will you be going next on your travels?
I’d love to visit the great wildwood of Poland at Bialowieza, one of Europe’s last remaining pristine wildernesses.
17. What are your favourite two Sustainable Development Goals and why?
My two favourite SDGs are 14 and 15, which refer to the restoration of life on land and life in the water. Without thriving nature we are done for. Simple as that.