Radio New Zealand "Kim Hill morning show"
Friday 8 June 2001
Kim Hill: Professor Ian Swingland is an international
adviser on conservation and biodiversity management. he's the
founder of the Durrell.. or is it Durrell, Laurence Durrell and
Gerald Durrell, anyway I shall ask Ian Swingland in a moment.. of the
Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology or DICE, and he holds
the emeritus chair in Conservation Biology at the University of
Professor Ian Swingland
He says biodiversity has become the biggest business in the
world with new ways of making it pay for itself. New Zealand has
lost biodiversity at a high rate of course, and Professor Swingland
has been working with the Professor of Environmental Management at the
University of Auckland on achieving more efficient conservation and
he joins me now.
Good morning Professor Swingland, how are you?
Professor Ian Swingland (international adviser on conservation and
Good morning, fine.
Kim Hill: Durrell or Durrell?
Swingland: It's Durrell actually but if you're American it's Durrell.
Kim Hill: Oh, is that Laurence Durrell calls himself Laurence
Durrell and Gerald Durrell calls himself Gerald Durrell? Right?
Swingland: They're brothers.
Kim Hill: I've never worked that out but yeah, brothers with
different pronounced names, it's always confused me.
Swingland: Well, I wouldn't worry. one lived in France and was a
misogynist and was a brilliant novelist and the other one had a jolly
good time in England.
Kim Hill: That's right, and liked animals a whole lot.
Kim Hill: OK, what does DICE or the Durrell Institute for
Conservation and Ecology do?
Swingland: Well, what does it do? It trains people from around the
world. although it's in Britain, it hardly works in Britain and it
works in the tropics and it trains people who want to run the world
basically, putting it bluntly, Kim.
Kim Hill: Caters for megalomania?
Swingland: Indeed but basically it takes people who can go back to
their own countries and start making conservation and local people
benefit and all the rest of it, and we're very successful at doing
it, very successful indeed. None of our products end up as checkout
girls in supermarkets.
Kim Hill: No. People are very suspicious of that kind of language
used in connection with conservation and biodiversity, of course
markets and products and profit and value. You do it unashamedly.
Swingland: I know. It's absolutely dreadful, isn't it?
Kim Hill: Well, you know, when you start putting dollar values on
things, don't you get into a murky area?
Swingland: I think Kim you're right, Yeah. No, I don't go quite
that far. I'm playing along with you just a little bit. Let's try
and work it through. The difficulty is that conservation hasn't been
a stunning success in the last 30 or 40 years and..
Kim Hill: How do you know? We might have been worse off?
Swingland: I'm sure we have achieved something and that we have
achieved something which has got us further down the field, but we
haven't achieved half as much, I believe, as we might have done.
One of the problems is that very often in conservation all over the
world, we've actually cut people out of it.
I mean have a think about the park that I ran in Africa, the Kathui National Park in
They put a ruler down on a map and created a park and then
they said right, we're going to have a park here - this is 47 years
ago. Right, everybody out, so all the villagers were kicked out.
This is a fairly traditional picture world-wide, and of course the
following day they said we want something to eat so they go after
some elephant or whatever it might be, and that's suddenly that day,
poaching, so they get disenfranchised from the situation.
So it's quite clear that people's involvement in conservation, their benefit
is critical for success. That's the first thing.
The second thing is that very often the way we've done conservation Kim, is we've
given money to WWF or some other organisation who have huge overheads
and a very little amount of money actually lands on the ground on the
Now, the thing is that biodiversity has always been treated
as a cinderella, we have to give money. Some of it gets stuck in the
overheads in organisations, a little bit of it gets onto the ground
and that, if you go to the Minister of Finance in a country, they
often say "Oh God, conservation is constantly give, give, give. we
never get anything back".
And so consequently you know, tourism for example, many of whom
who.. tourists from around the world want to see beautiful places, they want
to see kangaroos, they want to see a kiwi and so on.
Then there are pharmaceutical companies who say you know, all the drugs that you
and I have taken over our lives, most of them came from plants. That
is biodiversity being turned into something useful to human beings
and puts a.. you know, gives biodiversity a real value.
But the bottom line is this, that unless increasingly biodiversity has a
value to the man standing right on the border of a national park or
wherever he is, who's got a machete in his hand and it's of value to
him, he's going to chop it down.
Kim Hill: Well, Yeah, except that in order to make a beautiful
place accessible to both tourists and pharmaceutical companies, you
might have to build a motorway through it?
Swingland: Well, you might but I mean, that's an assumption. most
of the places I know, increasingly tourists are much more intrepid
than you think and are much more like New Zealanders. They're a
fairly intrepid group of people and they're happy to go to a place
that's kept its wildness if they have to walk there.
Kim Hill: But of course we have this dilemma in new zealand and
presumably there are other places in the world which may echo it. In
order to allow people to see our beautiful places, we run the risk of
environmental degradation. They tromp all the way through it and
they want to go to the toilet?
Swingland: Absolutely, absolutely. Let me go to the extreme
example, Galapagos. It creates more foreign income for the republic
of Ecuador than the oil that they've got but you can't allow any more
people to go there.. it's up to about 70,000 now.. because it simply
cannot cope with the number of people and literally it's wearing
out. The paths are now something like 18 inches below the surface of
Kim Hill: All right. Now, who's in charge of setting that limit?
Swingland: The government through the National Parks Service.
Kim Hill: But the government is making a nice living out of it.
the government is making money, so what provokes a government to say
no, no more people?
Swingland: Because of the international pressure that comes on the
government if they opened the floodgates because it's quite clear
five times as many people could go there and five times as many
people want to go there.
Kim Hill: And what's to stop the Galapagos government saying you
have to give us a whole lot of money to make up for us closing the
doors because we're reliant on the income from here?
Swingland: Right. so what they do, exactly that. What they do is
they've increased it now so that when you land with a group of other
people you have to produce dollars from your pocket; U.S. dollars, and
it's about $200 per person to get in, even if you're on a tour, to
get in and they're going to raise that to $300. But still at the end
of the day it's not the money, it's the number of feet.
Kim Hill: No, no, no, but that's what I mean.
So what's to stop the Galapagos government saying look the rest of the world, you seem
to care so deeply about the Galapagos islands, and we've seen this
happening all over the world, the rest of the world or the rest of
Us for example, say to the West Coast of the South Island, "Stop cutting those trees down",
and they all go you know, "To hell with you, we need to make a living".
So someone has got to come up with a compensatory cash.
Swingland: Well but.. whoa, whoa, hang on. If you start talking
subsidy and compensation, my blood runs cold.
Kim Hill: Oh, does it?
Swingland: Terribly. I like a free market solution, I don't like
artificial handing out of money for giving somebody some warmth or
succour which in fact to a large degree might be artificial. Take
the Galapagos.. let's go back to the Galapagos.. The governments
have said "Let's stop", so they've capped it and they've said "That's the
number of people and we're just going to increase the price and
increase the price".
Which is the way tourism goes because basically
it's only the high-rollers, high-margin individuals who are paying
for very expensive tours that ultimately are going to get to see some
of the best places in the world because they can't cope with the
volume of the low-rollers, low-margin, real package tour stuff
Kim Hill: Is that all right with you?
Swingland: No. I mean obviously from a.. I mean I'm not political,
very apolitical person but I mean I'm a great believer that people
should have the opportunity to go and do the sorts of things they
want without regard to their financial wealth, rather like access to
the law. I don't like law only being accessible by those who have
got billions of bucks to..
Kim Hill: But if you're going with the market, that's a very
efficient form of rationing?
Swingland: It is but now we're doing something else. I have, with
the President of Ecuador, set up a surrogate or ersatz Galapagos in
the city of Guayaquil which is the city from which you fly to get to
Galapagos. This has two points.
One is, it's going to be a hotel built in a very, very rustic way and so on,
like a termite mound, so that we have passive air conditioning in the system,
but then we're going to put parts of the populations of the most important animals
from the Galapagos there, managed by the people from the Galapagos,
so that people can..
Kim Hill: Galapagos is Chile, isn't it? Or is it Ecuador?
Swingland: No, no it's Ecuador.
Kim Hill: Ecuador, ok.
Swingland: It's Ecuador, Yep.
Kim Hill: So they're just shifting animals from one place to another?
Swingland: Well hang on, no, they're putting them into compounds.
Many of these species of populations exist in compounds in the
Galapagos I hasten to add. There's one of tortoises, there's only 13
individuals left. They're all in a rock enclosure in the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Kim Hill: Oh.
Swingland: So they're really keen on having their key animals and their different land..
forms of land iguana, in a different place, you know, eggs in another basket if you understand me,
and the hotel will subsidise all of that and it's going to be done between the
state and the private sector and with the local people's involvement
as a sort of tripartite partnership.
Kim Hill: This is very interesting. Has this kind of thing been done anywhere else?
Swingland: Its' increasingly being done because there's no doubt
about it, with Kyoto Protocol or whatever Bush comes up with before
the next Kyoto meetings which are in July as I understand it, there's
no doubt that there is going to be a totally new approach to
conservation world-wide which I'm sure New Zealand will get
increasingly involved in and there's going to be a lot of money
coming into the system from commercial and other industrial places
which will bypass all the societies and so on and so forth and go
directly to the project.
Kim Hill: Make me.. what's the link with whatever Bush does on the Kyoto Protocol?
Swingland: Ok, I'll link you into that. The big argument, and I'm
putting it as simply as I can, on the Kyoto thing, why Bush turned it
down, was two things.
One is that while they were prepared to agree to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the rest of the world,
particularly European ministers, China and India, were resistant to
carbon sinks being triggered in the Kyoto Protocol. In other words,
the ability to not just reduce emissions but to absorb carbon as
well, carbon dioxide, these Ministers were agin it. America said it
wanted sinks as well which was quite sensible. Their view was this
was just a trick on the Americans' part to get round reducing their
And the second thing the Americans wanted, the last
thing, was that they wanted to ensure that developing countries as
well as developed countries cleaned up their act because there's a
lot of pollution in those countries too.
Kim Hill: Right.
Swingland: And so where we've got to now is this, that if Bush comes
forward with what I know he's going to come forward with, which is a
Kyoto Protocol sort of mark two with sinks and developing countries
in from day one, then it was going to release an enormous amount of
commercial money into the system for the defragmentation of forests
I am very keen, having spent 30 years, 35 years of my
life in all the different parts of the world, to put back these
messed up forests with indigenous and endemic species of trees and
doing it in such a way that it's done in a businesslike way which
gives the local people a benefit and does the whole thing properly.
Kim Hill: Oh, are you saying that George Bush has been much
Swingland: I think Bush was wise to stop the process when he came
into the White House, on the Kyoto Protocol.
Kim Hill: Why wise to stop?
Swingland: Because it had become a matter of politics rather than a
matter of common sense.
Kim Hill: How interesting that you should say that?
Swingland: And they were.. the French made it quite plain to me in
their conversations, that they were pressuring the situation by
objecting to carbon sinks being triggered because they wanted to
ensure the Americans' petrol and diesel prices in their forecourts
went up and made them less competitive with Europe. I mean it was
politics, politics, politics and there was the sciences probe. We
know that trees absorb carbon as they grow.
Kim Hill: But then they've got to be done something with, those
trees, haven't they?
Swingland: Well yes, absolutely. It is perfectly done in many parts
of the world where a forest grows and big trees fall down. This
happens quite normally and quite naturally, and young trees grow up
from that and the old tree breaks down and helps to provide nutrients
back into the often very poor soils of tropical rain forests. So the
idea that we have is, we're going to put everything back. We have a
means using fungi where we can make mahogany trees grow 10 to 15
times faster so we can put a tropical rain forest back, instead of
300 years we can put it back in something like 80 years.
Kim Hill: Using fungi?
Swingland: Yes, well 92% of all living plants around their roots
have a fungus, a fungal group or family if you like, a certain kind
of fungus called mycorrhiza, and mycorrhiza grow around the roots
and they do three things.
Firstly, they increase the nutrient uptake by the plant they're associated with
so it grows faster.
Secondly, it provides the plant with virtual drought resistance, very useful
for planting plants back into deserts which have been denuded by
And it can also help in relation to trees growing in
soils that are perhaps not the most favoured soils, certainly these
really red iron-filled soils for example, many trees don't like but
we can make them grow in there by adjusting the mycorrhiza which we
can do from a helicopter or we can do it with a seedling as we plant
it and it costs absolutely nothing, literally it's a pail-full of
Kim Hill: And if the mycorrhiza is quite happy down there, why
doesn't get it onto the case itself instead of having to be
Swingland: Because the wrong ones are there. The one that's
normally associated with mahogany trees in rain forests is a
particular species and that's that.
Kim Hill: It seems a bit of a shortcoming on the part of nature, doesn't it?
Swingland: It does. Nature's not perfect.
Kim Hill: No, well it's interesting you should say that, that one
view of conservation is of course, that nature should be left to get
on with it itself as soon as we tamper with it in any way, it
becomes unnatural and this harks back to a point you were making
before, of what I took to be a criticism of a misanthropic view of
the conservation movement.
You want to accept that people that may be part of the system as well
and not exclude them but include them. Is that the basis of your philosophy?
Swingland: Yeah, I mean my basis of my philosophy basically is that
instead of it being seen as something which is preservationist, it
has to be subsidised, it has to be paid for by people's taxes and
people aren't involved and don't get a direct benefit, I want to do
I want conservation.
I mean maybe DOC should be called DOP because as I understand it,
the law in this country, it's been charged with the Preservation of living
things but not the Conservation.
Kim Hill: Ah, and the difference is?
Swingland: Enormous. It's the difference between day and night.
Preservation is, you put an invisible wall around to keep people out,
subsidise its existence and make sure you don't touch it, don't
fiddle with it and certainly don't extract anything from it, whether
it's called sustainable or not.
Conservation is the knowledgeable interference in the management of a
particular place where you involve the local people and basically it's a holistic way of doing
it, it's a recognition that ecosystems are dynamic.
They change all the time.
It's a recognition that conservation is a way in which you
can sustainably get benefits where people can then turn around say
"God, this National Park I live next to is a great thing for me, or
you know, my income has gone up because" - blah, blah, blah and they
suddenly value the place that they're attached to, or the animal that
heretofore they've been poaching.
Kim Hill: But then there are always arguments about purity. I
mean for example, if you have a forest in New Zealand that you wish
to conserve, do you put valuable species in it so that they make that
forest more economically valuable to the society?
Swingland: No, no, no.
Kim Hill: No?
Swingland: No Kim, you don't do that. That really is sort of
messing around and making things artificial.
You take a forest. you may find that bits of it have been chopped down
before tens of years ago, cut the whole thing back.
You get the local people involved and you have a proper discussion with them
about what they think should happen and so on.
There's no reason why you can't extract various trees from time to time which..
income from which goes back into the coffers to reinvest in the place and make it move forward. The local
people may have a lodge or hotel nearby and people who stay there you
know, go through the forest and enjoy it and they come back again.
In other words it becomes a living thing, it becomes something which
the free market has a great handle in. There's no reason on earth
why any government in this world needs to subsidise biodiversity
conservation, none whatsoever. biodiversity.. and you were quite
right in the introduction, is the biggest business in the world and
it's worth more than any other industry.
Kim Hill: How do you value it though? I mean I know that there has
been a study done in New Zealand that values I think, our
environment, our biodiversity, at $230 billion a year. The annual
value of native species, $230 billion a year and I'm going, OK.
Kim Hill: I mean how notional is that?
Swingland: Well I.. it's a bit of a number taken from the air I
suspect and I expect I'll get now lots of letters and telephone calls
in the next few days while I'm here when I've said that.
Kim Hill: Spreadsheets!
Swingland: Yes, absolutely, dear oh dear. No, I mean let's just
through a few things. There is a protein that we have just put into
an apple. I happen to be chairman of the Apple and Pear Research
Council in Britain, another one of my many hats, and we put this
protein in and it stops dental caries. so, if you've got rotten
teeth it stops it and if you haven't, it stops you getting rotten
It really is the apple a day that keeps the dentist away. where did we get that protein?
The answer, we got the protein from a tropical rain forest because we discovered it was an anathema
to the principle organism that causes dental caries in humans.
Kim Hill: Good Lord.
Swingland: Now, there is a forest.. there is a forest that's worth a fortune.
Kim Hill: Yeah, an apple forest?
Swingland: An absolute.. and now we've got a problem. Because of
the GM pressure groups who really are unfortunate people, we can't..
Kim Hill: Oh now, that's unfair.
Swingland: Well, I'll come back to that.
Kim Hill: Unfortunate?
Swingland: Oh, absolutely. We can't put it on the supermarket
shelves so it's likely to become something that you get through a
doctor's prescription and thus will end up with the people who
invariably don't go to dentists and who get prescriptions free if
they are on welfare or any other support programme of the government
which is a good thing.
Kim Hill: Surely you can argue that there is a big philosophical
and scientific debate surrounding genetically modified produce
without being accused of being, you know, a luddite, anti-scientific
Swingland: Well, I'm glad you used the word, not me.
Kim Hill: Well, I was pre-empting you I think.
Swingland: Yeah, OK! Yeah, I sort of do think that. I'll tell you
why I think that. There is no safe difference.. er, distance between
a GM crop and conventional crop or even crop grown by those in an
organic way. I mean they can travel vast distances, first point.
second point is that genes that have been created by human beings,
have been loose in the environment for ages.
The first one was called ice-minus for strawberries in California and it was released
into the open environment 23 years ago.
It was to prevent strawberries suffering from frostbite first thing in the morning, and
that's been free for a long time, and there are lots of others. So,
it's almost past the post, the horse has firmly got out of the stable
a long time ago. The third thing is, that many people on the GM
front are also people who are keen on organic food, and I am keen on
clean food too, but not organic. organic apples and pears are
sprayed with vast quantities of copper and sulphur and other things
and frankly, I don't want to eat them. I want clean food so, while
people interested in organic have grabbed this GM thing and said this
is terrible, this is Frankenstein food, this needs to be put down, it
is in fact the fastest way that we can create apples and pears to
take but two examples, which don't need to be sprayed, never need
anything put on them at all.
Kim Hill: So, just a footnote on that, you're saying that copper
and sulphur, while they may be strictly organic and natural, are not
Swingland: No, certainly not, and they are agreed by the Organics
Standards Organisations both in Britain and here in New Zealand.
Kim Hill: All right. so do you think it's inevitable that in 50
years' time say, or even sooner, I don't know, even later, I don't
know, that the argument about genetic modification will become a
quaint blip on the screen..
Kim Hill: And people will look back and go why was anyone so
excited about that?
Swingland: They will, because what will happen is that we will make
certain that from now on with new food agencies being created in
various countries, let alone my own, that we are going to make damn
certain.. I mean after BSE and Foot and Mouth disease, in Britain
we're absolutely determined that from now on anything that's in the
supermarket, we know exactly what's in it.
Kim Hill: Well, better late than never I suppose.
Swingland: Absolutely, but didn't it take a lot of things to happen
before we got there?
Kim Hill: It took a lot of things to happen but more to the point,
it took a lot of apparently intelligent people denying that things
Swingland: Yes, I agree with that.
Kim Hill: So, you can understand if the organic movement for
example, or the anti-genetically modified food movement for example,
is under-written by what now appears to be a very sensible suspicion
of big business and big government?
Swingland: I think even without that pressure group, someone like
you and someone like me always ask questions about what we're putting
in our mouths or whether or not that's the right mortgage to take out
or whatever else.
I think they've helped to raise the temperature.
I worry whether they just become self perpetuating after a bit.
they've raised the temperature, everyone has got the message now, and
I think it's going to be far less than 50 years.
Kim Hill: You've been working in a rain forest, Kumulu, in Borneo,
did I read that?
Kim Hill: What are you doing there?
Swingland: Well, I went there 21 years ago and then again last year,
when I made a film of 20 years has passed, what's happened. and,
when I first went there, it was the biggest untouched tropical rain
forest in the world and I got very emotionally involved with the head-
hunters there who were literally dying because their home was being
chopped down and they had no means of surviving in anything other
than the forest. they were hunter-gatherers. I went back there last
year and the forest is now chopped right up to the very, very border
of the rain forest. most of the Penan have died. there's only a few
thousand of them left now. When I was there, there were 43,000, and
Molu is something where we're hoping that.. it's in Sarawak, in
Borneo.. we're hoping that things are going to change.
Two things have happened.
It's a permanent world heritage site, which is good,
in the last six months. That means the European Union has by..
obligatorily to pay attention to it, to help it financially.
The second thing that's happened, this is the first time it's happened in
South Asia, is that a judge called Ian Chin in the Sarawak High Court
in Kuching has just allowed an appeal by native people that they own
the land they have been living on for as many thousand years as
people can think, and that no way does a forestry company, even if
it's got a managing director who's a Minister, have any right to push
them off it or take the trees. now, that's something.
Kim Hill: And will it now be restored or will the shrinkage merely
Swingland: Yes.. well, I think the shrinkage will be stopped but one
of the reasons I'm in New Zealand is that I have a lot of people
around me and people have given me a lot of funds with a view to
working out how we can defragment forests and use carbon
sequestration in trading and all the rest of it.
Kim Hill: When you say defragment, defragment means exactly what?
Swingland: Well, if you fly around on an aeroplane and you look
down, you look at a forest, you can see where there's been incursion
or a bit's been chopped out there or a bit's been chopped out there.
Kim Hill: So you want to join up the bits?
Swingland: You've got it, and put the missing bits back, but with the right species.
Kim Hill: All right. what do you do in your spare time?
Swingland: What spare time?
Kim Hill: Nice to talk to you, Professor Swingland, Professor Ian Swingland who is here as
guest of the British Council for the Ignite 2001 festival which is taking place this week in Auckland.
He's also giving a public talk at Victoria University on Wednesday the 18th at
6pm which is organised by the Victoria University Science faculty.