This partnership was celebrated in the latest edition of Oxygen Conservation’s newsletter, Field Notes, where our Head of Relationship Management, Simon Crichton, joined Rich Stockdale, Founder and MD of Oxygen Conservation, in sharing the story of why their teams chose to work together – and their hopes for the future of nature-based projects like these.
Why did you want to do this deal?
Rich: Our mission is to scale conservation to deliver positive environmental and social impact; generating a profit as a result of what we do not the purpose. We believe if this is possible we can mobilise the huge sum of money needed to help save at least a little of the world from climate collapse and the biodiversity crisis.
Simon: We’ve been working to find replicable and financially sustainable models for investing in nature restoration that deliver the greatest public good for more than five years. From the start of our discussions, we could see that Oxygen Conservation was pioneering a brand-new approach to protecting and restoring nature and we understood what their team was trying to achieve.
The company’s commitment to deliver positive environmental and social impact, while generating a sustainable financial return, very much aligns with our own values as a bank.
What was / is the objective?
Rich: This deal was so important to us as we wanted to demonstrate it was possible to raise a debt funding package based on natural capital and landscape acquisition for conservation purposes. This was incredibly important to develop confidence and credibility in the foundation of a natural capital economy.
Simon: Our £20.55m loan facility has allowed Oxygen Conservation to acquire 23,000 acres in Scotland – 11,407 acres of Langholm Moor (also known as Blackburn and Hartsgarth) and an 11,626-acre estate at Invergeldie, near Comrie in Perthshire – to help achieve its ambition of delivering conservation at scale.
The loan is fully committed for 25 years and marks what we believe to be the largest conservation-focused commercial debt package in the UK. This is a groundbreaking finance structure with income based on the sale of carbon credits generated through the Peatland and Woodland Carbon Codes.
At a broader level, we hope to be able to support similar initiatives nationwide that address climate change, adapt to its effects and promote biodiversity.
I often hear talk of how it’s impossible to place a value on nature and that, in attempting to do so, we bring nature into our broken economic system. A system that has depleted the natural environment. I agree there are risks in this approach, but if we don’t redirect the flow of capital in all its forms as a force for good – including support for the natural world – we won’t reverse this continuing biodiversity decline that will lead to a deeper climate and social crisis.
Why did you choose this company for partnership?
Rich: We are hugely fortunate to attract lots of interest in our work and offers of funding or investment. But we’re incredibly selective about who we work with across Oxygen Conservation and when we first considered securing debt finance we always targeted Triodos.
Put simply, Triodos is the bank of the environment; the most sustainable, authentic, and ethical bank we could find and hope to work with. This reputation is brought to life through every interaction and especially through our time spent with Phill, Simon, and Mavrick who were and continue to be incredible champions for our work and this partnership.
Simon: We were struck by Oxygen Conservation’s efforts to make a positive impact from day one. Rather than waiting for an environmental baseline assessment following the land acquisition, they were looking at how they could improve things right from the start, which said a lot about their intentions and motivations.
As well as environmental impact, the social aspect of Oxygen Conservation’s work is also important. We could see how they try to bring the local community along with them across all their projects, rather than acting as a distant landowner.
And because we have shared values and ambitions, there’s mutual flexibility. All parties understand that we’re dealing with natural processes that won’t always function in line with a spreadsheet or model.
Why did the company matter so much?
Rich: One of my rules in business is “how you do anything is how you do everything,” – it all matters. As soon as you claim to be about sustainability and the environment you have to authentically live and work that way. If we had chosen to work with any organisation with lower environmental or ethical credentials, we would have risked damaging our brand and the very foundations of our business.
We’re committed to collaboration and working in partnerships; it’s the only way we can all achieve great things and in Triodos, we found that perfect partner for what we believe to be the first natural capital back debt funding package.
Simon: We need leaders like Oxygen in the sector to develop these financing approaches – just as we saw in the renewable energy sector in the 1980s. Back then, Triodos developed approaches that, in maturity, enabled community engagement, benefit, and ownership to both exist and thrive. We hope we can accelerate this learning in the nature-based investing field and have been delighted to partner with Oxygen Conservation in this way on our learning journey.
What do you hope this will achieve for the future?
Rich: This deal has already changed the industry. It has increased confidence in the bankability of natural capital and therefore achieved exactly what we hoped by laying a foundation for the urgently needed natural capital economy.
The partnership with Triodos is incredibly exciting and so much has happened since we agreed on this deal. We have exchanged ideas as well as shared information and network connections. I was kindly invited to speak to the European Board at Triodos Head Office about our work and the future of natural capital which was a fantastic experience and included perhaps some of the most inciteful and helpful questions I’ve ever been asked. Bevis has kindly agreed to appear on our Shoot Room Session Podcast early in 2024 and we hope to work together to acquire many more Estates in our mission to scale conservation.
We’re also continuing to talk about the market for natural capital products and services and I feel sure there are fascinating opportunities to collaborate in this space in the coming weeks and months as the urgency to create the natural capital economy only intensifies.
Simon: Urgent restoration of the natural environment is essential to both tackling and being resilient to climate change, and the scale of investment needed is significant. We need to see ourselves as part of natural systems and create a new economy that is connected to the natural environment on which it depends.
We share Oxygen Conservation’s hope that by creating these types of funding packages and frameworks, we can show how private finance can flow into natural capital at scale. Their willingness to be open about their experience and amplify to others ties in with our aim to change finance and finance change by backing projects like this.