300 seconds with Hugh Somerleyton NOW talks to the founder of the WildEast Foundation

300 seconds with Hugh Somerleyton
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Hugh Somerleyton is the owner of Somerleyton Estate in North Suffolk and a regenerative farmer, a rewilder, a conservationist, a trail runner, a wild swimmer and an agitator for change. He founded WildEast Foundation to make a decisive impact across the East Anglia region to re-educate, restore and reconnect people and nature to ensure sustainable abundance and greener lives. He is also the creator of successful brands Dish Dash and Hot Chip. 

One word that describes you?  

Wild!

What is your personal indulgence?  

Weekend FT

Global scientists tell us that 1.5°C (34.7°F) above pre-industrial level is the absolute ‘red line in the sand’ before we enter a one-way road to “irreversible destruction” … that Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 is too late and we must put a brake on carbon this decade.  What are your most inspiring climate actions? Are you committing to Net Zero carbon emissions or better before 2030?

Yes, as a family business we are fascinated by the emerging metrics (not all consistent!) of measuring carbon and are committed to becoming a net importer of carbon. We are also beginning to work with our clients and community to consider carbon, waste and bio-diversity as the norm.

Given that the current economic crisis was triggered by a public-health crisis, what changes should we expect from travelers and the tourism industry that should persist long into the future?

Most travelers simply export their home lives to somewhere hot and absorb either no culture or a synthetic parody. The most worldly-wise travelers I ever knew lived a mile from my house, both centurions, they never went further than Norwich – I think the pandemic has helped us appreciate and recognize we don’t need to be so indulgent with travel. I hope this persists together with travel that supports sustainability and endangered communities (animal and human)

How is your company supporting the Global Goals (also known as Sustainable Development Goals)?

God, it’s hard enough surviving in business post pandemic BUT for me, learning from & educating the leaders in my team and our clients is our primary short term goal with driving the business to being carbon neutral and naturally sustainable – the ‘normalization’ of these characteristics is a real challenge in our neighborhood. I hope to engage with more of the goals as we mature as a business. We have a WildEast education facility being developed which I hope will set many local kids on the road of compromise and coexistence.

During travel, what companies (airline/train/bus/ship, hotels, restaurants and brand boutiques) are you loyal to? Which ones are committed to accountable sustainability? Which ones are doing little to none?

Honestly I don’t travel a huge amount but I am loyal to Soho House and refer to Juliet Kinsman’s insta for inspiration. We are beginning to invest time in researching experiences around ecotourism like Nature Trek and the trusty weekend FT is increasingly reliable unearthing operators taking ‘planet saving’ seriously.

What are your thoughts on carbon offsetting? Do you offset your air and ground travel carbon emissions?

The trouble with off-setting is it also tends to offset any sense of liability/responsibility so doesn’t stimulate behaviour change. I think the first step is a really fun/engaging APP that helps us all understand and measure carbon and from there to positive behavioral change is the urgent global need.

What would you say to those that do little to nothing for the good of communities and the environment?  

It must be NOW and FOREVER that you join the global planet saving community and as Sir David Attenborough coined ‘record your witness statement’.

A great reset is anticipated post Covid-19.  What do you personally need to reset?   What 3 changes must happen NOW to get people to change attitudes and behaviour?

We need to retain the grand alliance we saw in the pandemic – we have proved we can act in global solidarity – we HAVE to continue this trajectory to have any hope, across gov’t, politics, nations, communities – it might just be THE FIRST and ONLY human endeavor that effects and needs us all to work as one – for Mother Earth.

We must spend, spend, spend on messaging – it cannot be left to the annual lovebomb from Sir David – insurers and big business need to recognise the role of advertising in group behavioural change.

Change religion – Mother Earth is the only one – pray for her!

The UK and EU have passed the Carbon Laws. Should governments make Net Zero carbon emissions mandatory before 2030 for individuals and companies? What should the incentives and penalties be?

I think penalties need to be as much about public shaming as money – companies generally fear reputation over fines. Incentives I think should reflect the same – I am unconvinced companies over a certain size should benefit from subsidies – the money needs to go to those smaller companies and poorer households. We need climate heroes – the new superheroes to lead and inspire.

What is your personal favorite place to stay that’s rigorous, accountable and transparent around sustainability with no greenwash allowed?

I need to think on this – one day Fritton Lake but right now – probably almost any small European agro-tourism camp/hotel immediately springs to mind – they are miles ahead.

 What ‘cause’ are you leading or involved in? What drives your passion? And what are your bold actions that are driving change?

WildEast is, I think, ‘Britain’s first regional scale multi sector planet saving alliance’  but also an accreditation scheme and education. We are just over one year old and have a big heart but it is my primary cause. I would like it to be a regional exemplar – returning 20% of the ‘nature need’ to the wild 250,000 ha over 50 years (or much quicker) driven by desperate anxiety and desire to make an impact. I think the WildEast Map of Dreams is our primary bold action – a place where all sectors, peoples – can record their own planet saving story to inspire cross sector alliance.

Who is your greatest influence? What legacy would you like to leave behind from your leadership?

Paul Lister Founder of The European Nature Trust– honest agitator par excellence and indefatigable! Well, perhaps that WildEast lit the way to help create the most regenerative and eco-restored region of UK full of people who have learnt to coexist and compromise (with Mother Nature) and a flagship brand for all of us out here to hold up to the mirror and say we were there – we did this together…that would be cool.

Best advice you have been given?  

Don’t be so broad minded your brain falls out – I really suffer from this! But remembering it helps keep focus.

Your best advice to young generations concerned about their future? 

Stay positive, agitate for change, demand more of your elders but also do more – we have all become too expectant – this one is about everyone – no hiding places.

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