FoE pins revival hopes on Greenpeace official

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The Independent Online

Friends of the Earth has appointed one of Greenpeace's top officials to replace Andrew Lees, its campaigns director who died in Madagascar last ew Year's Eve.

The FoE has high hopes that its choice of Uta Bellion, a 39-year-old German civil engineering graduate and sewage expert, can help revive their fortunes after a difficult two years.

The loss of Andrew Lees, a highly regarded and long serving campaigns chief, was a heavy blow. He died of heat stroke and heart failure while investigating strip mining plans on the impoverished African island.

Since then two of the organisation's most senior and effective campaigners have left. One joined Amnesty International and the other, an Australian, was ordered to leave by the Home Office after her visa expired.

Another problem for the organisation is that Greenpeace's hugely publicised direct action campaigns against Shell's Brent Spar dumping and French nuclear testing have pushed FoE almost entirely out of public view for several months. FoE and Greenpeace are Britain's two best-known environmental pressure groups but they have different styles and cultures.

The FoE tends to use less civil disobedience and confrontation, and involves its supporters in decision-making and campaigning more than Greenpeace.

Ms Bellion, 39, is the chairwoman of the board of Greenpeace International, the umbrella body which co-ordinates and oversees Greenpeace offices in 28 nations.

A highly principled and politically aware woman, her diplomatic skills helped calm the conflicts that swept Greenpeace last year, when its top management refocused campaigns and cut staff numbers to match expenditure with income. But she has also tried to act as the organisation's conscience during her three-year tenure of the full-time post. She lives near Lewes, East Sussex and is married to an Englishman; they have a six-year-old son.

After graduating with a civil engineering degree from a German university, she worked as a researcher and consultant on sewage processing and also advised the Green Party in the state of Lower Saxony.

She joined Greenpeace nine years ago, and was elected to the international board of directors in 1990, becoming chairwoman three years later.

At FoE she will be number two to executive director Charles Secrett, who has instigated major reforms and cut one-fifth of its staff since he took the helm two years ago. FoE has had to do some retrenching since the early 1990s when public concern about the environment began to fall off, but it still has nearly 250,000 supporters.

FoE wants to announce her appointment in September, so neither Mr Secrett nor Ms Bellion would comment.