ITF’s new Chair of Trustees

Dr Stephen Vickers became Chair of Trustees in September, relieving Dr Kate Shreckenberg, who had served with distinction as interim chair since the retirement of Timothy Hornsby in June. Stephen trained in International Economics and in Maritime Policy, and admits to having a lot to learn about trees. He has never lost his childhood fascination for the natural world, with a particular interest in amphibians and birds. For most of his working life he has been involved in educational qualifications, and has served as Chief Executive of two charitable “Awarding organisations” (examination boards) and the British Education Council. He earns his living in college and university inspection and in management training around the world – albeit this year mostly on Zoom.

Stephen has long admired Richard St Barbe Baker and Chief Josiah Njonjo, Founders of the Men of the Trees in 1922. St Barbe’s belief in human equality, when his employers in colonial forestry expected him to treat people and trees as imperial resources rather than as the heritage of the Kenyan people or as entities of value in themselves, remains extraordinary. Stephen is also amazed by what selfless individuals can achieve: It is claimed that bodies wholly or partially founded by St Barbe have planted 26 billion trees over the past century.

“Sadly I’m not a botanist”

“I see my task as helping to organise and resource ITF in such a way as to enable the Trustees and staff with genuine arboreal expertise and talent to serve the trees, the creatures and plants that depend on them, and the people who live in their shade. To be true to the vision of our founders, we are about people as well as trees. One of our duties to the planet is to restore indigenous trees, but at the same time, if we cannot add value for the local people by including trees with a food, timber or shade value, and involve those people in the decision-making and execution, whatever trees we plant will swiftly vanish.”

Stephen is immensely proud of the Kenyan and African heritage of ITF as well as its British elements. “We are still rooted firmly in both Africa and Europe, with staff located in the UK and in Kenya, but as mobile as funds allow and the work requires”, he says. “We have some Trustees from both traditions, and most of us combine both African and European experience. In our staff, we are blessed with talented people with a range of charitable and environmental experience, much in the field. My task is to help these people do their jobs as well as they can.”

ITF’s mission

“The ITF’s mission is not to assert a claim to primacy among tree charities purely on the grounds of our longevity; but to earn their trust and admiration by co-operating with them all and helping launch new and sustainable local forestry-related schemes which can eventually stand on their own two feet. To fulfil this role we are dependent upon our members and supporters, both individual and corporate. We are grateful to you all. HRH the Prince of Wales, himself a committed environmentalist, knew and encouraged St Barbe Baker, and has been unswerving in his support for ITF, and many others have also been members for decades. I look forward to meeting many of you, and to welcoming many new members and supporters!”

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