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UK: Vestey's vegan grandson sees off Shell

by Isabel OakeshottThe Sunday Times (UK)
January 27th, 2008

The oil giant confirmed this weekend it would be severing ties with the Wildlife Photographer of the Year show at the Natural History Museum, London, from this year.

The move follows intense pressure from Friends of the Earth and WWF, who have accused the company of using the event to “greenwash” its environmental credentials.

Eco-warriors who have played a prominent role in the campaign include Mark Brown, the vegan grandson of Sir Derek Vestey, who made a £1 billion fortune in the meat trade.

Brown and fellow activists from the group London Rising Tide staged monthly demonstrations outside the exhibition centre.

In 2000 Brown was acquitted of being the ringleader of the Reclaim the Streets march that triggered riots in the City, causing £2m of damage.

Shell is the latest oil multinational to be accused by the eco-lobby of using environmental causes as “greenwash”. BP’s launch of its “beyond petroleum” campaign to explore alternative sources of energy was greeted with derision by green activists.

Opponents of Shell’s sponsorship - entries for the 2008 prize close in March - argued the company is an inappropriate sponsor because of its ambitions in the Arctic and the destruction it causes in areas such as the Alberta tar sands in Canada and the east Siberian island of Sakhalin.

They claim there was also disquiet among members of the wildlife unit at the BBC, which helps organise the event, and from some photographers who entered the competition, which attracted 32,000 entries from 78 countries last year.

Recent winners of the contest, which began in 1964, have included Goran Ehlme’s shot of a walrus stirring up the ocean floor as it feasts on bivalves; and Manuel Presti’s photograph of a flock of starlings over Rome trying to evade a falcon.

Pressure has gradually mounted since the company started its sponsorship in 2006. Campaigners have disrupted awards ceremonies. They have also run parallel displays called “Shell Wild Lie”, featuring photographs of the impact of oil drilling on animals and their habitat, outside venues for exhibitions linked to the competition.

The campaign culminated with Friends of the Earth urging the public to complain to the museum. Last night, the Natural History Museum confirmed it was seeking new sponsors.

Sharon Ament, its director of public engagement, would not discuss reasons for the decision but thanked Shell for its support. She said it had helped cement the show’s reputation as the world’s most prestigious wildlife photography competition.

“Partnerships such as this with multinational companies enable us to extend the reach of our activity, helping us to promote the enjoyment of the natural world to a wider audience,” she said.

WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, described the decision as “fantastic news”.

A spokesman for the oil company said its involvement would end after a nationwide tour of winners of the 2007 competition following the current exhibition at the museum in London. He refused to comment on the reason for the decision, but denied it was linked to the protests.

“Protection of the environment remains of great importance to Shell,” he said. “We have a number of relationships with organisations around biodiver-sity such as the World Conservation Union, the Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian Institution and Wetlands International.”

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