Going green with greenbacks

Knepp Estate, West Sussex © Getty images
Knepp Estate in West Sussex

There is a small network of the super-rich investing in environmental protection.

Over the years I have spent a lot of money on women, wine and song, while the rest has been wasted. However, there is also something satisfying about giving back to the wider community. So hats off to Charles Burrell and Isabella Tree, custodians of Knepp Estate, West Sussex. Eighteen years ago the couple “took the radical decision to give up on Knepp’s arable and dairy farm to pursue an experimental process of habitat creation”, says Laura Battle in the Financial Times. This changed the landscape “from monotonous fields to grass plains, copses and scrubland, harbouring a rich diversity of plant, insect and bird life”.

Funding national parks

Such green largesse is unusual, says Mark Wade in The Times. In the US, less than 10% of philanthropy is channelled towards green causes while in Britain the figure is just 4%. However, there does seem to be “an intimate network of the super-rich who invest in the environment”. This includes “men and women who have funded national parks over vast tracts of the South African wilderness or intervened to halt development in remote Patagonia”. Others “have paid out small fortunes to protect mountain ranges in northern Spain or to save Highland peaks and glens in northern Scotland”.

One prominent billionaire using his fortune to conserve nature is entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss. When he was a college student he “fell in love with the American West”, says Tate Williams in Inside Philanthropy. He is now spending his $6bn fortune on “securing land in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho” to “protect it from industry”. For example, he donated an undisclosed amount to the Trust for Public Land to buy and retire oil and gas leases on 24,000 acres in Wyoming. Other gifts include $35m to protect 310,000 acres of former timberland in Montana.

But he’s not content with merely protecting America’s wilderness. “I have decided to donate $1bn over the next decade to help accelerate land and ocean conservation efforts around the world, with the goal of protecting 30 per cent of the planet’s surface by 2030,” he writes in The New York Times. This should ensure “more of our planet is protected by the people, for the people and for all time”. It should also benefit human beings as well, since the hope is that the projects “will create jobs, attract visitors and support sustainable economic growth”.

This all sounds very worthy, so if Wyss wants some light relief while he’s saving the planet, he might want to consider investing in a Sno-Cat. This is the latest status symbol for the “savvy master of the snowy universe”, according to Bloomberg’s Justin Ocean. A cross between a snowmobile and a tank, its design “lets it float atop snow and still make progress if it falls into a crevasse”. This beast of a machine was originally intended for the US military or oil-drilling crews. But orders are flooding in from “land owners with remote chalets”prepared to pay $125,000 for a vehicle outfitted in “prison-uniform orange”.

Tabloid money…  Britain has reached ‘peak stuff’

• Tidings of comfort and joy should be winging their way on behalf of all womankind to domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, says Vanessa Feltz in the Daily Express. The TV cook has told American television companies to stop airbrushing her “sticking-out stomach”, calling the practice “pernicious”. She’s right. The subliminal message from the beauty and fashion industry to young girls is: “Buy this product, wear this outfit, invest in this handbag/pair of boots/shampoo and you too can look… gloriously gorgeous.” They don’t see the hours of professional makeup, hair and eyelash extensions that go into churning out these idealised images. The truth is no product will help them look like that. They never did. They never will. Thank you, Nigella.

• “I know I shouldn’t say it, but the high street’s nightmare before Christmas affords me some degree of pleasure,” says Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail. “I used to think it was just me who resented the annual orgy of festive spending. But it seems the entire country is having what might be termed a ‘post-consumer’ moment. Some blame Brexit. Others say the market is trapped in ever-decreasing circles of price discounting thanks to Amazon slashing prices. After all, the excitement of bagging a genuine bargain has been almost totally devalued by sales events such as Black Friday. Then again, it could simply be that we have all reached “peak stuff”. If you asked me what I wanted for Christmas, the answer would be ‘nothing’“.

• “I know you’re struggling to get into the festive swing because all joy has been sucked from your brain by Brexit,” says Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror. “Just remember that the people responsible for the merde-show are having an even more miserable time than you. Yes, I’ve got the inside track on last week’s Tory party Christmas concert, which, by all accounts, saw more blood-stained scraps than a butcher’s dog. David Cameron, sadly, couldn’t make it. But on a big screen, Skyping from his shepherd’s hut in Oxfordshire, the former prime minister could be seen coyly warbling: ‘While shepherds watched their hut by night / For fear it got burned down / Mark Carney from the Bank came round / And said you’ve crashed the Pound.’ The screen was bottled. Fights broke out. Ho, ho, ho.” Merry Tory Brexmas.