ON THE GROUND: Estancia La Esperanza, Patagonia, South America

Jennifer Sprinks

Scheme: Patagonian wildlife reserve, a partnership between the World Land Trust and the Fundacion Patagonia Natural.

Funding: £222,000 over three years. Biggest donor is Albertino Abela, international airline-catering businessman (more than £110,000). British Airways has donated free flights. Also supported by 20,000 individuals over the past ten years.

Objectives: To protect 16,000 acres of Patagonia's habitats and further develop its eco-tourism

The World Land Trust, a UK-based conservation charity, teamed up with a project in Patagonia, the Fundacion Patagonia Natural, to highlight the Gulf of Patagonia as a priority for conservation and development of eco-tourism.

In 2000, the World Land Trust used £250,000 of raised funds to buy the 16,000-acre Estancia La Esperanza (Ranch of Hope) and turned it into a wildlife reserve.

The trust facilitates fundraising and provides technical advice to local projects, leaving its partner organisation with ownership and management of the site.

The Patagonian project is working to save several endangered species such as the southern right whale, guanaco (wild llama), elephant seal and puma. Researchers are studying predator conflicts, with a particular focus on the farmers' attitudes towards the pumas that are killing their sheep.

A key success of the project's work has been the trebling of the sea lion colony to 105 in three years. The southern sea lion has been a victim of the fur trade, despite the fact that it is illegal to kill sea lions in Argentina.

The trust's chief executive John Burton said the scheme is already resulting in a bigger range of wildlife. But before pursuing further conservation work, the trust and its partner organisation have agreed that a small eco-tourism lodge and research centre are needed to house researchers and visitors. It has just begun a fundraising scheme to raise £50,000 for renovation.

"We want to raise enough money so that the ranch can start paying for itself. We still need further funds to turn it into a site of sustainable development," said Burton.

Since the World Land Trust was founded in1989, it has concentrated on preserving the most biologically important and threatened lands. Its first project was the purchase of land for conservation in Belize, and, since then, its schemes have spanned wildlife habitats in three continents - in Costa Rica, India and the UK. Overall, the trust has managed to protect nearly 300,000 acres of habitat.

David Bellamy was a trustee from 1992 to 2002 and Sir David Attenborough is patron. Run by six staff, eight trustees, and an honorary treasurer, the charity heavily relies on volunteers both in the UK and abroad.

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