Or rather; Jonathan ‘Jonnie’ Wild’s Carnivorous Crocodile raises money for African rainforests – while entertaining and educating children about conservation.
Our founder and chair, although perhaps better known as the former Boss of Bettys (he’s the great nephew of Frederick Belmont, founder of the famous tea rooms), has in fact been writing stories ever since his own children were small. When on holiday, he would get up early every day, and write 500 words to read to them each evening. And when he retired from running the Bettys and Taylors Group (BTG) in 2011, he began to develop his skills as a writer, and to target them towards his conservation work.
It was in fact his children who’d inadvertently led to him becoming a conservationist in the first place.
One day in the 1980’s he came home to find them in tears because they’d seen a film on Blue Peter showing animals fleeing a burning rainforest. He knew that the long term solution was for UK businesses, such as BTG, to strongly support rainforest projects, and thus help to stop deforestation. So his response was immediate; if the children would help him to plant one tree in Harrogate, he would arrange for the another 999,999 to be planted in Africa. And he’s been good to his word.
The kids duly planted their tree on The Stray, and by 2007 BTG had in fact planted three million, and counting, through their innovative Trees For Life scheme. Jonnie had also founded the Yorkshire Rainforest Project, dedicated to saving an area in Peru the size of his home county, and UBoC followed soon after he retired.
But it was not until his grandchildren came along that his twin passions for story and trees converged. “Like all small children they love being chased, and they like me to pretend to be a crocodile. To make it more fun, I told them that the only way they could be safe was to stand on one leg, and pretend to be a flamingo. And that gave me an idea for a picture book.”
Working with illustrator Brita Granstrom, the story soon took shape – about a crocodile who won’t, at first, share his water hole with five flamingos. And now he has a three-book deal with Otter-Barry Books.
As you’d expect from a man with such a major commitment to conservation, Jonnie is donating all his writer’s royalties to two schemes in Africa: The Udzungwa Forest Project (which is also one of our Terrific Tropical Trees sites, with funding from Samuel Grant Packaging, alongside York University and Flamingo Land – hence, he says, how flamingos might have crept into the game), and also to the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group.
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