Edge Pledge: A New Approach to Conservation Crowdfunding

The main thing that inspired Edge Pledge is that there’s not enough money to do what everyone wants to do for the environment. The issue isn’t that we don’t have good ideas or we don’t know what to do, it’s just that there’s not enough money to get it done.
Image: Marcia Riederer

Image: Marcia Riederer

This is not a new problem in conservation - not by a long stretch.  But it’s one that Sam Marwood hopes he has a solution to: “How do we get a whole new source of money, outside of government to resolve all these issues?”

Sam spent his childhood on a dairy farm and explains how much he loved living on the land: “My mum would grow trees from seed and plant them throughout the farm… I thought that was really cool. I loved seeing these trees grow and I loved seeing birds go in those trees. It’s like creating your own little natural world that these animals are really grateful for.”

For Sam, it’s this humble upbringing that eventually saw him complete an environmental science degree at university, followed by nearly a decade of work creating environmental policy. But he always felt that he could do more…

“One day I was thinking about Movember and how that’s a great independent source of money that comes from the public. I thought ‘Where’s the equivalent of that for the environment, where not only do you raise a lot of money, but you also raise awareness?’”

Thus, Edge Pledge was born: an online crowd-funding platform with a number of differences that set them apart, according to Sam. “We get people to put themselves on the edge for native animals that are on the edge of extinction.” This is done by issuing challenges (like doing a stand-up comedy show, or jumping out of a plane) through the platform, and people vote for which challenge a person should complete by donating money - all of which goes to bringing native animals back from the brink of extinction.

Why this concept? As Sam explains, it’s all about doing something different while still raising money for the environment and spreading awareness. “We didn’t want to do a fun run, we didn’t want to grow a moustache… So we thought ‘lets create a challenge generator that helps people figure out what challenge they want to do for the environment.’  

“So the Edge Pledge concept is that a challenge generator gives you three options for challenges and then your friends get to decide what you do [by donating money]. We thought that could be a powerful, fun way of raising money.”

Sam started Edge Pledge with friends Carys Evans, Nadia Nath and Dan Eason. Nadia and Carys worked with Sam across Victoria for over a decade in environmental management, and Dan (senior manager in accounting) has been a long term friend and was eager to be a part of the social movement.

And it seems like others are keen, too. Sam reels off an impressive array of businesses and individuals who are busy helping him and his team prep for the launch of Edge Pledge. Start-up wunderkinds Atlassian and behemoth Google are both involved in developing Edge Pledge’s online presence and Sam has enlisted celebrities like Gossling and Ash London to complete challenges at the launch.

“I originally thought I’d be working in government for the rest of my life. But I realized there are other ways to make a difference with the environment. So this idea of starting a social enterprise whose sole focus is raising money for the environment really, really excited me. We don’t want to duplicate what others are already doing though. We just want to add more money and raise awareness.”

Edge Pledge could help mammals like this feathertail glider.  Image: Marcia Riederer

Edge Pledge could help mammals like this feathertail glider. Image: Marcia Riederer

So, you might be thinking ‘Where is all the money that Edge Pledge hopes to raise going to go?’ Generally, Sam hopes to support “practical, landscape-scale projects assisting native animals on the brink of extinction.” Essentially, Sam and Edge Pledge don’t exist to duplicate the work already being done by a raft of conservation organisations. Rather, they intend to fill what is in their eyes an enormous gap – a source of regular, sustainable funding.

Indeed, a large portion of what Edge Pledge is hoping to do is simply to inject more fun and charisma into conservation fundraising. Central to that, Sam muses, is how conservation is framed more generally: “It’s been hard for us in trying to figure out our messaging. We’ve done user testing and people are like ‘I’m sorry but I didn’t even think about any of the animals as I was using the challenge generator. I didn’t even know what it was for, I just loved using the generator.’ And you think ‘Oh, maybe that’s okay because at least you’ve got your foot in the door, you do a challenge, you pick an animal to support and then the next six months you’re getting updates on how the animal’s going so maybe you care more about it over time.”

Aside from gradually converting every day people into conservationists, Edge Pledge aren’t out to reinvent the wheel: “We’re partnered with the best environmental organisations (e.g. Conservation Volunteers Australia) that have all the best processes in place, and have been doing it for years. We’re trusting the knowledge of our environmental partners and we’ve also got Brendan Wintle from the University of Melbourne and the Threatened Species Hub, who’s going to sit down with our list of projects from each of the partners and help us pick a couple from each to support.” Sam thinks that this two-pronged approach to prioritising which projects are funded by Edge Pledge will ensure their investment process is based on the best science and evidence available.

A shingleback lizard.  Image: Marcia Riederer

A shingleback lizard. Image: Marcia Riederer

Essential to the concept of Edge Pledge is thinking and dreaming big. However, Sam knows that it’s important to be realistic: “I don’t think Edge Pledge is going to raise the billions of dollars that we need [to conserve the environment], but what it will do is raise awareness to the public that they can do something tangible… then hopefully, the money will follow. I think what we have is an application that has the ability to go viral. But… most importantly, it’s about building on and supporting the great work that existing environmental organisations are doing.”

“I’m really excited that this could be one of the few easy ways that people can tangibly do something for the environment.”

For Edge Pledge, it’s all about helping people feel like they’re making a difference in a positive way: “You can do a tangible thing by doing a fun challenge and you know that the money you raise is going to support a native animal that lives close to you, and you can go see it and hang out with it.”

“It’s about being able to poke fun at yourself but doing it for a serious cause.”

For more information about Edge Pledge, head to their website:

Cover image taken by Billy Geary.

Billy Geary
Billy is the Science & Conservation Editor at Wild Melbourne. He is a wildlife ecologist interested in predator-prey interactions and invasive species management.

You can find him on Twitter at: @billy_geary

Review: Radiology of Australian Mammals

The Book: Radiology of Australian Mammals
The Editors: Larry Vogelnest & Graeme Allan

Australia’s mammals are incredible. Having been isolated on our dry, desolate continent for so long, they have been afforded ample opportunity to evolve and adapt. Some of the best evidence of this is located within the newly published Radiology of Australian Mammals.

Despite being closely related, on the outside echidnas and platypuses look nothing alike - such are the adaptations required for their very different lifestyles. However, digging a little deeper under the skin (literally), there are some similarities between them. Indeed, as revealed by x-rays, our monotremes also share some anatomical structures with birds and reptiles, harking back to old evolutionary lineages.  

Even to someone with little background in mammal morphology and health, the x-ray images within Radiology of Australian Mammals are incredible. Particularly striking are the monotremes – the intricate detail of a platypus, or the beautiful quill shadows on the echidnas. Further, the similarity of bone structures within the dasyurid family (e.g. antechinuses, quolls and Tasmanian devils) is quite striking, despite the large variation of sizes between species. Some of these comparisons are even more outstanding as three dimensional CT-scan images.

Aside from being a book one can simply browse through, marveling at the images, Radiology of Australian Mammals has a lot to offer from a technical aspect as well. Vogelnest and Allen have collected sample radiographs and diagnoses across nearly all families of Australian mammals, including both healthy and injured specimens. This is ultimately where the text’s strength lies: in providing the first comprehensive reference material for Australian mammal radiography.

A reference text such as this is incredibly timely too, given the increased number of road trauma events and other incidences causing injury to Australia’s native species. Such is the variation in Australia’s mammals (compare the anatomy of a microbat with a sugar glider, for example), Radiology of Australian Mammals is a vital reference for those providing medical attention to native species. This is in addition to a clear and thorough description of correct radiographic technique and other diagnostic procedures.

Many readers will find Radiology of Australian Mammals useful, from veterinary practitioners and wildlife carers to those interested in how the anatomy of Australia’s mammals has evolved over time. Indeed, nearly all readers will be able to marvel at the unique way in which Vogelnest and Allen bring the diversity of Australian mammals to life.

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you’ve ever wondered what the insides of Australia’s mammals looks like, or have a general interest in animal morphology and medicine.

Cover image is an excerpt from the text (Wombat cross section), courtesy of CSIRO Publishing 

Review: Mountain Ash

THE BOOK: Mountain Ash: Fire, Logging and the Future of Victoria’s Giant Forests
EDITED BY: David Lindenmayer, David Blair, Lachlan McBurney and Sam Banks

Less than two hours’ drive from the centre of Melbourne, the towering skyscrapers of the city are replaced by giants of a different kind: the Mountain Ash. These remarkable trees are the tallest flowering plants in the world and the forests they populate are home to Victoria’s only endemic mammal, the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. Despite making up some of the most spectacular landscapes Victoria has to offer, montane ash forests are currently facing threats on two fronts: fire and logging.

The authors of Mountain Ash, professors and researchers at the Australian National University, know the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria intimately. ANU research has been conducted in the region for more than 30 years; it is the longest-running environmental study in the world. The authors’ aim to distil decades of research within a 150-page book could have resulted in a dense account of their findings, but this is not the case. Instead, the authors have created a vivid and accessible narrative describing the challenges facing Victoria’s giant forests.

This publication utilises images in abundance to create a visual reference for the reader; the accompanying captions provide just as much insight as the body of the text. These images allow the reader to see for themselves the patterns of fire across the forest, the differences between old growth and post-logging regrowth, and between areas of forest burned at varying severity. These images are an invaluable tool to understanding the text, but at all times the authors communicate their subject clearly and with enthusiasm.

Beginning with an overview of the Black Saturday fires and the flora of the forest, the book goes on to examine the responses to fire of possums, gliders, birds, invertebrates and small terrestrial mammals, as well as the impacts upon large old trees and carbon stocks. Finally, recommendations are made for the forest’s future management. In succinct descriptions broken up by ‘myth-busting boxes’, diagrams and many photos, the book spells out clearly the extent of the destruction that has already occurred in our forests and how further damage can be avoided.

Uniquely placed by their ongoing research to examine the same areas of forest in detail both before and after the Black Saturday fires, the authors are able to offer a comprehensive view of the destruction caused by fire. Intriguingly, they have discovered that the cycle of logging in montane ash forests actually enables further damage by fire, in turn degrading the habitat of the Leadbeater’s Possum, for which large old hollow-bearing trees are vital habitat.

Mountain Ash is essential reading for all Victorians. It alerts the reader to the degradation of the crucial habitat of our faunal emblem, the Leadbeater’s Possum, and an iconic tree species, the Mountain Ash. The closing chapters indicate that change is possible as well as necessary to ensure that our forests are protected; reading this book is only the first step towards joining the cause.

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you’ve ever felt enchanted by the forest. 

All photos taken by Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky is a freelance journalist and works part-time in threatened species conservation. Her other passion is ex-racehorse rehabilitation and she is currently completing her Masters.

You can find her on Twitter at @ajmullarky

Urban Wildlife and Responsible Cat Ownership

If I were a feral cat, I would steadily be getting more and more concerned about my wellbeing. In order to halt the decimation of our native wildlife, the Federal Government has recently released the Threatened Species Strategy. Part of this strategy is a pledge to humanely remove two million free-living feral cats from wild areas across the nation.

For many, this is a long-awaited development in our fight against extinction. Cats were introduced to Australia with the arrival of European settlement. Since their introduction, Australia has lost 29 native mammal species, with feral cats implicated as one of the main causes for the extinction of 20 of them. Furthermore, the Action Plan for Australian Mammals, released in June 2014, concluded that 55 species of native wildlife are threatened and require urgent conservation action.

If you’re a cat owner like me, you may be thinking: “So what? My cat isn’t feral, she hardly EVER brings anything home, and she is far too lovely to be categorised as a ferocious predator!” But you would be wrong (I’m sorry, I know it hurts to hear it).

Domestic cats ( Felis catus ) are a major threat to Australian mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Photo: Billy Geary

Domestic cats (Felis catus) are a major threat to Australian mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Photo: Billy Geary

While research on the impact of domestic cats on native wildlife is scarce compared to that of feral cats, it suggests that domestic and stray cats do negatively impact many of our native species. For example, domestic cats have been implicated in the decline of the Superb Lyrebird in Sherbrooke Forest, and in the decline of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot in south-western Victoria. In the case of the bandicoot, cats were responsible for at least 42 percent of deaths in juveniles. Other studies have found that 50 to 80 percent of cats partake in hunting activities, but that the cats only brought between one third and one half of their prey items home.

I’ll admit it, I don’t like to think of my moggy as a parrot-eating, spinebill-chasing huntress, but our urban wildlife is too important to ignore this problem any longer.

In recent years, many councils have moved to reduce the impact of pet cats on native wildlife in their municipalities by imposing cat curfews. In the City of Wyndham in Melbourne’s north-west, cats must remain on their owner’s properties between the hours of 10pm and 6am, and between 8pm and 6am in the City of Whitehorse in Melbourne's east. The Yarra Ranges Council has gone a step further, requiring that cats must stay on their owner’s property at all times.

It's hard to believe that my little fluff-ball is contributing to the loss of our urban wildlife, but it is something that I must accept responsibility for. Photo: Emma Walsh 

It's hard to believe that my little fluff-ball is contributing to the loss of our urban wildlife, but it is something that I must accept responsibility for. Photo: Emma Walsh 

So what can you do to limit your feline friend’s impact on our native birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs? For starters, you can have your moggy desexed. This won't stop your cat from hunting, but it will eliminate any chance of it contributing to the proliferation of feral and stray cat populations. This will also help to reduce the number of dumped and unwanted cats that overrun animal shelters every year. If you are looking for a more direct approach, there are things like brightly coloured cat bibs which bring the cat to the prey’s attention, or other apron-like collar attachments which interfere with paw-eye coordination to reduce the wearer’s chance of a successful pounce. Finally, you can keep your cat indoors as much as possible. This is the most effective way of protecting our fauna, and also limits your cat’s chances of being injured in a road accident or catfight.

It’s difficult to acknowledge that your furry friend may be feasting on native animals behind your back, but acceptance is the first step to solving the problem. By making a few calculated commitments towards limiting your felines take-away habits, you can help to halt the decline of our urban wildlife.