Newsmaker: Forest fighter - Simon Counsell Director, the Rainforest Foundation

Graham Willgoss

One of Simon Counsell's most notable claims to fame was driving the vehicle that carried a 50-foot model of a chainsaw into a major DIY store when he was a youthful Friends of the Earth campaigner. It was one of many protests at the sale of illegally logged timber.

But he managed to refrain from joining the assembled Greenpeace protesters when he delivered a keynote speech on deforestation at the meeting of G8 environment and development ministers in Derbyshire a couple of weeks ago. "My natural instinct is probably to be with people protesting outside the meeting," he says. "I've spent a lot of time organising one protest or another. It's not that I personally have given up on taking those kinds of approaches, but I've got to try to make a difference from the inside now."

In his speech, Counsell argued for the reform of logging laws, not better enforcement of them. Industrial logging, whether legal or illegal, is increasing poverty and the incidence of diseases such as malaria and HIV in developing countries, as well as damaging biodiversity, he says: "G8 environment and development ministers must address the impact of industrial logging on poor countries for the sake of world development."

This means restructuring deficient forestry laws in countries such as Peru, Indonesia and Congo, where up to 35 million people depend on the rainforest for their livelihoods. He thinks people must be put at the centre of forest development if the international community is to meet key millennium development goals, including lifting people out of poverty.

"Dependence on forests is still a reality for hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people," says Counsell. "Where logging companies operate in the tropics, resources needed by local communities for their survival are often damaged or destroyed."

Counsell was elected to provide a general overview by other NGOs represented at the G8 talks because of his long-term involvement in anti-logging protests and debates for Friends of the Earth and the Rainforest Foundation.

The foundation supports indigenous people and traditional populations of the world's rainforests in their efforts to protect their environment from deforestation. Much of its time is spent working with local conservation organisations, developing ways to protect the individual and collective rights of people in forest communities. "Indigenous people depend on the forest for their survival. They matter, and their rights are central to our cause," says Counsell.

The Rainforest Foundation stands in opposition to the World Bank, with which Counsell says it has a "prickly" relationship. The bank is pushing through new laws and a 're-zoning' of the Congo forests that could see up to 60 million hectares handed out to logging companies.

It is not only the World Bank that Counsell is keen to put right. He wrote a book called Life After Logging to counter the "spurious, at best" claims from the timber industry of ecologically managed, legal logging practices.

Since he became director, the Rainforest Foundation has been effective in promoting public and consumer awareness. DIY giant Homebase, for example, will only sell timber that comes from legally logged and managed forests.

But he says the foundation has failed to end deforestation: "The rainforest is being felled at a faster rate now than it ever has been."

Counsell says he will continue as long as his cause is necessary. "I hope it won't be too long before we're able to shut this organisation down because there won't be any need for it," he says. "But we only really have the next ten years."

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