Threatened Species

1900 Footprints: A Journey for the Plight of Threatened Species

This is a guest post by Tristan O'Brien.

With a growing list of over 1900 Threatened species in Australia and an ongoing struggle for resources to combat this issue across the country, what does the future of sustainability and biological diversity look like in Australia? 

As the world’s population migrates into cities and leaves the countryside, our physical and emotional connection to natural places is being broken. Indeed, the first modern ‘urban’ areas in Europe have existed for only around 200 years, a mere fraction of the eons our species has spent living with a much closer connection to the land. Globally, more than half of the world's population live in urban areas, whilst in Australia, the number of people living in cities dwarfs those living in rural areas at a staggering 89%. 

How many people in this country are now able to experience the Australia described by Banjo Patterson? ‘For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.’

Surely, this is having an effect on our motivation for and understanding about why protecting ecological integrity is important here in Australia. In protecting threatened species and responding to climate change, we are struggling to fulfil our responsibility to lead as a developed nation.

Tristan O'Brien will walk 1900km to raise awareness and funds for our threatened species.  Image: Camilo Mateus

Tristan O'Brien will walk 1900km to raise awareness and funds for our threatened species. Image: Camilo Mateus

Reconnecting with our HumaNature for the long term

It is clear to me that as Australians, we have a unique opportunity. We are economically stable, and have a high standard of living, low population density, and some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on Earth.

Developing a greater outdoor culture in Australia will ensure that future generations are equipped with the knowledge to protect biodiversity. Getting our city populations outside and reconnecting with our amazing environment will go a long way towards developing motivation and political will to restore our fragmented landscapes into the future.

This cultural change can happen at a grassroots level, by taking friends and family to our own favourite spots and sharing our enjoyment of natural places. This is why organisations working towards these changes are so important, especially if they are able to reach a wide audience and involve them in environmental issues in an engaging way.

Another exciting movement is the way our understanding of what it means to have nature in a city is changing, particularly by changing cities themselves to contain and function as unique ecosystems. Side effects of including nature in the function of cities include greater social cohesion, a decreased chance of developing a mental illness, reductions in crime*, and increased productivity**.

Logo design: Bel  én Elorietta.

Logo design: Belén Elorietta.

But what about responding now?

Unfortunately, many environmental issues are pertinent now, and cannot wait for future generations to make the first response. For example, historical land clearing in Adelaide’s Mt Lofty Ranges ending in the 1980s has left an ‘extinction debt’ of nearly 50 of the 120 bird species that originally existed in the region, eight of which have already disappeared.

Continued land clearing, mining activities, invasive species, urban sprawl and climate change are just some of the pressures threatening many species around Australia that require immediate action to prevent further species loss.

Therefore, it is important for Australians to support organisations that are actively carrying out restoration works right now.

So what are we going to do about it?

1900 kilometres for 1900 threatened species

In my own efforts to highlight these issues, from mid-September I will be undertaking a long-distance walk called 1900 Footprints to raise awareness and funds for conservation projects in Australia. The walk will take me from Adelaide to Melbourne and across Tasmania.

In walking one kilometre for every species listed as Threatened in this country, I hope to garner interest from individuals, groups and organisations for changing the way we think about our connection with natural environments and to fundraise for on-the-ground conservation initiatives.

Funds raised will go towards two organisations that are making a real-world difference in these areas:

BioR is a volunteer-run, scientifically-informed restoration organisation that reconstructs habitat for declining species in cleared agricultural landscapes. They will use funds from 1900 Footprints to install a nursery and nesting boxes for declining bird species in a 1700ha restoration site near Monarto, South Australia.

Wollangarra is an outdoor education centre that helps young people connect with themselves, their peers and the natural environment by taking them hiking in wild areas of the Victorian High Country. In these places, they perform important, on-the-ground conservation works, including weed removal, track maintenance and tree planting. Funds from 1900 Footprints will be used to sponsor disadvantaged young people to attend these life-changing courses and connect with the wild Australian landscape.

Please help me with 1900 Footprints by sharing this project with your family and friends and by donating to the project.

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Tristan O’Brien has worked in ecology, sustainability, outdoor education and eco-tourism. He is passionate about communicating environmental conservation through design, writing, photography and outdoor education. He completed an Honours year in Environmental Biology, investigating habitat use changes of woodland birds following controlled burning.

You can find him on Twitter at @TristanAvella

Banner image courtesy of Tristan O'Brien.

*Wolfe, M.K. and J. Mennis, Does vegetation encourage or suppress urban crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA. Landscape and Urban Planning, 2012. 108 (2–4): p. 112-122. 

**Nieuwenhuis, M., et al., The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 2014. 20(3): p. 199-214.    

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