The BBC's decision to close its Wildlife Fund as part of cost-cutting measures announced last week has been condemned by a 44-strong troop of conservation leaders.
In an open letter to BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, the charity leaders, hailing from such organisations as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Worldwide Fund For Nature UK, asked for the decision to be reversed.
“At a time of obvious crisis for the world’s biodiversity, we can only ask what message it sends for such an iconic and respected organisation as the BBC to appear to be drawing back from its support of the living world. It is our hope that the tremendous work already achieved can continue and that the decision to close the fund can be reversed,” the letter reads.
An online petition to save the fund has been launched, so far gathering over 6,500 signatures.
But the BBC doesn't look set to back down. A BBC spokesperson said today:
"We are proud of our achievements in support of the BBC Wildlife Fund. However, as with the many difficult choices the BBC currently faces, we must focus our charitable efforts in areas where we can have the most impact.
“We have therefore regrettably concluded that we can no longer support the Wildlife Fund editorially. As a result the trustees have decided to wind down the fund but will continue to monitor and evaluate existing grants. We would like to thank them for their tremendous work over the past four years."
The BBC must find an additional £340m over the next two years in order to make up for the freezing of the license fee and to deal with a projected deficit in its pension scheme. However savings from the closure of the fund "will be small" argue the petitioners, who say that it “has been an extraordinary success” in both fundraising for its numerous causes, and bringing together NGO support.
The BBC Wildlife Fund was launched in 2007 with the television series Saving Planet Earth. It raised £1.8m in that summer alone and has since totaled over £3m for local and international conservation work.
The Fund has supported projects such as a campaign to save the wildlife of Kibale National Park in Uganda, much of which has been wiped out over the past 40 years. Where once there were over 2,000 elephants, now there are less than a dozen. Another project benefitting from the fund aims to combat poaching of the Amur leopard and tiger in Russia.