Archive for June, 2014

Barefoot Billion – What a week!

Monday, June 30th, 2014

I have just walked 60 miles with Philip Wells – The Fire Poet.  I feel I have connected with this extraordinary man and his mission.

Every journey begins with a single step. How true. But we’re not only talking about the physical. Walking with Philip liberates the mind, allowing inner thoughts and feelings to find their moment.

Is it really too much to ask that in this world we so dominate, we cannot find a way – a path – to justice, tolerance and peace? A future that respects diversity and yet binds us all in our common humanity. A future where we care for each other, for the other creatures that we share this fragile orb with, and for the fabric of our single, precious home.

The glorious, rugged lands along the Welsh Borders provided the perfect canvas for this conversation, a communing of spirits, a collision of thoughts, all the while to the steady beat of Philip’s bare feet.

Every message of support spurs him on, every Tweet and text. Every person we have encountered – from the wide-eyed child, to the rambler, to the conqueror of cancer seeing the world as if for the first time, to the young activist poet finding his voice – has been inspired by the man walking on behalf of the Barefoot Billion. Who could not be so moved?

I am leaving Philip today but a part of me remains on the journey. Part of me continues to explore why we are what we are. Part of me will continue to walk in step for the children and the animals and the wild places of a world worth saving.

And Philip’s extraordinary words are now part of me.


B the gift
B the solution
B the shift
B resolution

B the difference
B the deep
B the small leap
AND the giant leap

B a human
B human KIND
Less fast forward
More unwind

This is your time
Time for the taking
B’lieve in your soul
And its wide-awakening

B bold and barefoot
B meek and mild
B compassion
B that child

B a beacon
B at peace
B like Mandela
After his release

B the justice
B the proof
B the miracle
B the truth

Now is your moment: text STEP to 70111 to donate £3 to and B THE STEP

Court calls time on Paved highway across Serengeti – Is it Really good news?

Friday, June 27th, 2014

While some environmental and conservation groups rejoice at the decision of the East African Court of Justice to prohibit the construction of a paved road across the Serengeti, I still have my doubts.

I recall that some years ago, the President of Tanzania, trying to defuse what was a matter of growing international concern, pledged that the road would not be paved and would be a dirt or ‘murum’ surface instead. That seems to be exactly the outcome of this recent judgement.

My concerns remain. A main all-weather but NOT paved road (if that is what is now on the table) will still be a major obstacle to wildlife, will still have a significant impact on the ecosystem, will still encourage vehicles to travel at speed through a World Heritage Site and will still potentially stimulate ribbon development along the sides of the road up to the edge of the Serengeti before it enters the protected area.

It also raises questions about the sanctity of World Heritage Sites at a time when the Selous Reserve, once a global stronghold for elephants and also located in Tanzania, has just been declared a World Heritage Site in Danger.

Are World Heritage Sites really worth the paper they are written on when neither the country in which they are located, nor the international community, seem to understand or deliver on their respective obligations?

I guess we will know more when we see the details but, for now, I raise only one cheer in respect of the news that the Serengeti is not to suffer a paved highway. With an unpaved road, this wondrous place may not be destroyed but it seems to me that the unsaved alternative is the start of its death by a thousand cuts.

I hope I am wrong.

Blogging off


Barefoot Billion

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Born Free President, Will Travers joins leading performance poet, Philip Wells in undertaking an epic 1,000 mile, 2 million step journey, walking barefoot ‘in the footsteps of the bards’ through Cornwall, South West England and Wales. ‘Barefoot Billion’ is raising money for Born Free’s Global Friends Programme and two other charities. Will is walking alongside Philip for four days on his 68 mile stretch from Tintern Abbey to Gladestry. Here is his account of day one.


He started this morning at 4.30 am trying to make up for some time lost yesterday when a combination of an agonisingly-bruised heel and sheer exhaustion caused him to slip, temporarily, behind schedule.

My friend Philip Wells, The Fire Poet, is a man on a mission.

We joined him at 7.30 and then walked – Philip barefoot as he has been for the last 600 miles – from Tintern to Monmouth.

‘Only 10 miles’. It sounds easy enough but as I watch this extraordinary many gingerly place one agonising foot in front of the other, across surfaces that threaten to cut and slice, I know 10 miles must seem like a marathon.

We cross-crossed the River Wye, snaking our way through glorious countryside. At times I thought the only thing that keeps him going is his great affinity with nature. The beauty of our surroundings, the buzzards, swans, the lazy river, the chance encounters with other walkers, each intrepid in their own way, seemed to revive his spirits.

And then there is the poetry. Last night. Standing under the shadow of Tintern Abbey, the rafter less roof seemed to echo to Philip’s powerful oration, my mother, Virginia, his elegant foil.

Today, the walk ended at Monmouth Comprehensive School, immersed in their week-long Literary Festival. Philip seemed re-born, energized by the 400 children packed into the marquee, each of them, in turn, inspired, as I am, by this man who is truly putting his money where his mouth is, this man who truly believes that words can change the world, this man who is calling on us all the B The Step and is leading by example!

Follow the walk, support the walk, be with Philip every step of the way.

Blogging off


Follow Will and Philip on twitter for updates on their journey.

Please make a donation by visiting: or by texting ‘STEP’ to 70111 to donate £3.

United to assess the future of captive marine mammals

Friday, June 6th, 2014

It is not often that individuals and organisations with passionately held and sometimes profoundly disparate opinions get together, talk and then walk out of the room still smiling.  But at what could prove to be a landmark meeting in Miami organised by Virgin Unite, the charitable arm of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin, that’s exactly what happened.  Twenty-five people representing marine parks that display performing cetacea (dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises), representatives from other aspects of the leisure industry, scientists, leaders from the animal protection movement, tourism trade associations and more, focussed their attention for 36 hours, trying to define what the future holds for captive cetacea.

And, of course,  they did not agree. But they did I think, come to the realisation that things are changing. In my opinion it is unlikely that the status quo, the continued presentation of dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises (some of whom originated in the wild) for public entertainment is a model that will persist long into the future.

The meeting explored important concepts – What do we mean by wild?  What is a sanctuary?  Can current captive facilities be environmentally enriched? Can captive bred dolphins be returned to the wild?  What does success look like?

We also discussed over-arching policy frameworks that placed the welfare of the animals at the heart of decision-making, while recognising that facilities that care for animals for the rest of their lives cannot run on fresh air and have to be built around sustainable financial models – not necessarily for profit – in order to  guarantee the highest levels of welfare, whatever the future may hold.

In my view it would be wrong to characterise all those who hold dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises in public display facilities are the bad guys.  It would be equally wrong to characterise all those who campaign against such forms of animal exploitation as animal rights extremists.  We are, each of us, to some extent, a product of our personal life experiences.  We are each on a journey of discovery and it is only perhaps sometimes through meetings, such as the one in Miami on 3rd – 4th June 2014, that we can take steps forward, learn and grow, and make better, more informed and, hopefully, wise decisions reflecting our evolving compact with the natural world.

Don’t get me wrong, Born Free will never abandon its clear principled position that wildlife belongs in the wild.  Nor will we cease to challenge those who continue to keep and exploit dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises for public entertainment and commercial gain – but nor will we shy away from opportunities to hold discussions that may lead to the fundamental change we wish to seek, however hard the journey.

As Winston Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war” – to talk is good.

Blogging Off

P.S. A recent opinion poll revealed that 86% of people surveyed said they would not wish to visit a marine park to see whales and dolphins as part of an overseas holiday.