One of the big ideas that help drive the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and its family of charity zoos is conservation advocacy. This, simply, is any process that helps to influence behaviour, policy or outlook at any level to the benefit of biodiversity, conservation and the natural world. In short, it’s speaking up for the natural world - giving nature a voice.

Two of our key areas of advocacy are palm oil and single-use plastic drinks bottles. Palm oil is something we’ve been banging on about for a while now – but our position has changed recently. How, and why?

Palm oil

Palm oil is a widely used and vital ingredient in many modern-day products. Vast oil palm plantations in South East Asia have destroyed crucial rainforest habitat and led to the deaths of many wild animals. Orang utans are among the species hit hardest. For a number of years the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust had a policy of using no palm oil in its restaurant and shops. The charity has recently moved to a new position of using sustainable palm oil.

There are a few good reasons for this; there’s better traceability and labelling of products now - look out for those with sustainable palm oil labels. The Round table on Sustainable Palm Oil – an industry body - is more credible. The RSPO includes growers, traders, manufacturers, retailers and conservationists and promotes the production and use of sustainable palm oil.

Sustainable palm oil is actually the most environmentally friendly option. Alternative crops are worse for the environment. Palm oil can be environmentally friendly if it’s grown sustainably. And sustainable palm oil will help stop the destruction of existing rainforest, prime habitat for orang utans.

We have selected a flagship species or habitat at each zoo to help highlight our message. At Paignton Zoo this is the Bornean orang utan; at Living Coasts it is the mangroves habitat; and at Newquay Zoo it is otters. We also have a campaign slogan: Sustainable Palm Oil – Turn Over a New Leaf

Plastic bottles

In addition, WWCT has stopped selling single-use plastic drinks bottles in its shops and catering outlets. So what’s the reason for this move? Essentially, it’s to highlight the huge problem of waste plastics – especially in our oceans. We don’t expect to change the world on our own – but we do hope to set an example.

There are some terrifying statistics and sound-bites to go along with this issue. Around the world, millions of marine animals are killed every year by plastics (source: UNESCO); it’s thought that by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans; around 80% of water bottles and almost all water bottle caps are not recycled; only 24% of the 5 million tonnes of plastic used in the UK each year is reused or recycled (British Plastics Federation).

What are the alternatives? Well, you can buy drinks in recyclable boxes, cans or glass bottles from our catering outlets; you can carry refillable, reusable water bottles available from our shops. Our slogan here is: Marine Plastic – Let’s Turn the Tide.

What happens next?

We will continue to put the issue of palm oil before the hundreds of thousands of visitors to our three zoos each year, explaining our position. We will spread our message about single use plastic bottles as our latest conservation advocacy campaign. We are communicating these messages to staff and volunteers through talks, memos and updates.

We aim to reach visitors through everything from web sites – like this - visitor talks and videos played on TV screens in our restaurants and entrance halls to social media and interpretation signs in buildings and around the grounds. So hopefully everyone will soon start getting the message.

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