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Insurance and environmental conservation (With Rob George)

Published on 07 May 2021

Welcome to Insurance Covered! The podcast that looks at the inner workings of the insurance industry with the help of expert guests. This week we are joined by Rob George, Head of Corporate Governance and Risk at the RSPB and our topic for discussion is the role insurance can (and does) play in environmental conservation.

We start by looking at who the RSPB are and what they are trying to achieve. The RSPB or Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are a nature conservation charity based in the UK that focuses on the protection of endangered bird species. They have about 2,000 paid staff, around 18,000 volunteers, and a net charitable expenditure of around £100 million a year which provides essential funding to conservation projects across the globe. They have over 200 protected wildlife reserves that provide endangered species a habitat that protects them from extinction and helps them to thrive.  When a species is identified as being at risk or endangered the RSPB plan and carry out projects to protect birds with the help of Governments, their members, who help fund the projects and of course insurance companies, which will be the focus of this podcast.

We go on to explore the impact insurance has on environmental conservation, focusing on key projects undertaken by the RSPB. One project discussed by Rob is an international project on Gough Island which in the South Atlantic, between South Africa and Brazil and is an important site for breeding endangered birds like the Albatross. The RSPB as well as working with mainland UK also conduct conservation projects in other UK overseas territories, however remote they are. Rob explains "around 2 million chicks are born on Gough island each year, but they are at risk due to a non-native mouse population accidently introduced by passing ships". The project to eradicate the invasive mouse species involves flying helicopters over the mountainous terrain in often difficult decisions and drop poison traps using hoppers. The difficulty of the task meant specialist pilots and ship captains were needed which meant getting pilots from New Zealand to come across to the remote island to help.  

"The insurance requirements are pretty bespoke, so it's not just marine and air cargo which I mentioned earlier on but abandonment insurance. So, we were concerned about whether we would have enough flying days to get the project done in a season given the conditions that you get in the South Atlantic and we needed to be able to at least clawback some of the costs if we have to give up during the year of operation because of the weather conditions so we had abandonment insurance when we tried first during 2020".

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and restrictions were imposed the project had to be abandoned, the abandonment insurance helped to cover the losses. In 2021 the project was resumed and the work to save the Albatross natives of Gough island is well underway. In this kind of scenario, without the backing of Insurance companies' projects like these would not be able to even be attempted and conservation efforts would be far more difficult to undertake.

We finish the podcast by discussing what more insurance companies can do to aid conservation projects and how that relationship is likely to evolve in the future.

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