Wildlife charity tries to end strife: Nicholas Schoon looks at how two years of infighting have hampered the efforts of the World Wide Fund For Nature

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD WIDE Fund for Nature will attempt to put an end to two years of tension, plotting and infighting at a meeting tonight of the charity's 18 international trustees.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who will chair the meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, has been a hands-on president of WWF International for the past 12 years and has not stayed aloof from the fray. He has supported its embattled director-general, Charles de Haes, against moves to oust him - with matters coming to a head during one difficult meeting of executives and trustees at Buckingham Palace.

Mr de Haes has subsequently said he will resign, although he will remain in post until June 1994. He says one of several reasons for leaving the pounds 100,000-a-year job is that he has had his fill of disagreements and confrontation.

He told the Independent: 'I'm afraid we do have some people who care more about petty little issues than saving trees and wildlife. I've stepped on people's toes . . . It has never been a popularity contest and clearly I've made enemies.'

Much of the infighting has been between the international headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, and national WWF organsiations, especially the USA.

WWF USA raises the most money followed by Britain, with the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany close behind. The international headquarters which they support is a Swiss-registered non-profit-making corporation which holds the copyright on the organisation's two greatest assets - the familiar panda logo and the letters WWF.

These symbols, jealously guarded with threats of legal action at any sign of copyright theft, are recognised world-wide as standing for nature conservation. Gland licenses them to the national organisations: the symbols give them their main fund-raising muscle. The money collected is then spent on conservation projects, mostly in third world countries which harbour most of the earth's biodiversity.

WWF International's priority has been to maintain common standards and goals and to keep the money flowing in from the national organisations which do most of the fund-raising.

But instead of funding conservation projects through WWF International, WWF USA cherishes its independence and tends to do the job itself. In Latin America, all of WWF's fieldwork is paid for and organised by the US organisation. WWF UK also runs some of its own overseas conservation projects and has had quarrels with Gland, as have other national organisations.

Tonight's meeting will discuss a strategy to take WWF into the next century and the statutes and by-laws which are part of the new compact between Gland and the national organisations. It will also consider Mr de Haes's successor.