The last two years have taught me some useful lessons about who to listen to. Do listen to your 10 year old when he listens intently to your description of your job of the last twenty odd years and then says “why?” Don’t listen to the bank manager and don’t listen to the nagging voices of self doubt and common sense.
I used to be in the City, where unfortunately I specialized in the Japanese stock market. “Unfortunately”, because contrary to an often held belief Japan is up the wahoo and has been since the late 80s. I made a good living out of a little investment management firm I set up in 1998, but could see the writing on the wall 9 years later when I appeared as an expert witness in an insider trading case. The trader involved was fined heavily (in the U.S. he would have been jailed) and banned from trading in London, so cheerfully set up in Geneva. I was sickened.
As so often happens, though, I had come up with a Plan B – Habitat Aid. I’m never quite sure how to describe it, but let’s give it a go.
I hope to persuade and enable people to at least partly recreate or help replace key habitats like meadows, wetlands, orchards and woodland. The company also helps a small number of charities financially.
Habitat Aid is partly an online retailer selling mostly trees, plants and seeds sourced from really good quality specialized suppliers who often have a limited or no e-commerce operation themselves – so they benefit from being involved. Half our profits from sales go to selected partner charities, which are linked to specific products. We sell exotic ‘trees for bees’, for example, which help fund the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at Sussex University. This will not just help charities financially, but also helps get key messages across. We encourage folk to help give honey bees all year round forage so we sell trees like Acacia dealbata, which flowers beautifully from January.
We also act as a kind of honest broker. I am building a network of consultants in areas like garden and estate design, meadow creation, and wetland projects. We recommend and introduce these folk to end clients and landscape professionals, to give advice or to design and project manage. We then supply the plants for these schemes. We have just worked on a lovely pond project for Channel 4’s ‘Landscape Man’ on this basis.
We are developing products directly with our partner charities. We are working with the ‘Adopt a Beehive’ scheme and BBKA Enterprises to supply native seed mixes for bees, for instance.
We have also started to run courses on things like making meadows and ponds as part of our efforts not only to enable clients to create and manage them but also to appreciate them aesthetically.
Habitat Aid has been trading for a year and we are still tiny, but I am cautiously optimistic. Do I wake up at three o’clock in the morning in a blind panic? Yes. Do I look forward to getting to my desk in the morning? You bet.