Fox Quarterly - Checking in with... Ben Goldsmith

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Fox Quarterly Spring 2023

Checking in with… Ben Goldsmith

The Chief Executive Officer of Menhaden, conservationist and environmentalist reveals the ways we can be better travellers, how he helped save the Iberian lynx – and why he’s afraid of flying

What was the first holiday that made an impact on you? 

When I was very young my mother and father acquired a large tract of land and a big, tumbledown farmhouse in Andalusia. From a very early age I knew instinctively that the land was degraded. Since then we have made great strides in restoring the area, a process which has given me huge joy. 

What motivated you to establish The Conservation Collective

I visited Ibiza and couldn’t believe the beauty of the north of the island. A friend who had grown up on Ibiza was convinced that it was set to go the same way as the mainland Spanish coast. Together we hatched the idea of bringing people together to provide funding to the best grassroots environmental restoration initiatives on the island. 

What led you to dedicate so much of your time to working with grassroots charities? 

All the best things that happen are the result of dedication and perseverance by small groups of individuals who care deeply. Getting modest amounts of funding and other support to these people is the key to making positive change happen. 

What has been the biggest highlight of your philanthropic career?

The first initiative I ever supported, aged 19, was the campaign to persuade the Spanish and Portuguese governments to save the Iberian lynx from extinction before it was too late. At the time there were only 90 animals remaining. I was just one of the early funders, and the campaign led to a sustained effort which has succeeded in building lynx numbers up to 1,300 today.

Where will your travels take you to next? 

My family and I are going to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast at Easter. I’ve always wanted to visit Costa Rica, perhaps the only country to have doubled forest cover in just one generation, from 25% to 50%, alongside a host of other dramatic rewilding initiatives on land and in the sea.

What advice do you have for people who want to do better when travelling?

I think it’s most important to support local businesses which directly support local communities and their customs, and which minimise their impact on the natural environment. Eat in locally own places, too.

What are your key requirements for choosing a destination or hotel?

I want to be close to nature when I travel, to the maximum extent possible. Often I travel to places which I think will offer that, only to be disappointed when I arrive. So many ecosystems around the world are degraded beyond recognition. The joy is in finding those which are not. My favourite NGO, Rewilding Europe, now offers guidance on how to travel in the most intact ecosystems remaining in Europe.

What are your pet peeves when it comes to travelling? 

I’m a little afraid of flying. To counter this, I nearly always have a couple of beers or a stiff whisky when I fly, music playing in my ears, and I count slowly to 100 from the start of take-off.

Do you have any go-to techniques to calm the mind when travelling?

I think it’s really important when you’re spending time with your family to try to enjoy the moment. One way of doing that is to limit the use of technology to specific times in the day. 

Are there any destinations still on your bucket list? 

I long to visit the Peruvian Andes. There is something extraordinary and otherworldly about the destination, a place comprised of pristine nature and a culture which stretches back millennia.

Dead or alive, who would your ideal travel companion be? 

My father, Jimmy Goldsmith, who died when I was 15, and who knew how to do it all. Ben is the chief executive officer of Menhaden, a London-listed investment trust investing in more efficient use of energy and other resources. As well as chairing The Conservation Collective, Ben is a trustee of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), a climate change-focused philanthropic fund, and chairs the Goldsmith family’s JMG Foundation, which focuses on environmental issues.

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