Banbury volunteer walks across Dartmoor this weekend to support a project working to save Namibian elephants

A Banbury volunteer is walking across Dartmoor this weekend to raise funds for a project that helps elephants live safely alongside humans in Namibia.

Namibian elephants can cause catastrophic damage to farmers' water supplies
Namibian elephants can cause catastrophic damage to farmers' water supplies

Ian Dearmer has been working with Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA) since he discovered the work being done to protect elephants from harm in Namibia.

In their search for water the huge desert animals may visit farms or schools in search of water and pose a potential threat to residents, damaging buildings, water pipes and wells.

EHRA sends volunteers to the country to help establish protective walls around these wells and to dig alternative water supplies for the elephants.

Ian Dearmer is pictured during a visit to the EHRA project in Namibia. Next to him is German volunteer, Gaby Milla

Mr Dearmer and two fellow volunteers, Helen Burt and Rhiannon Sully, will tackle the walk to raise funds for the EHRA PEACE project. This is an elephant-focused conservation education programme for the communities living in the southern Kunene and northern Erongo regions, where many of Namibia’s desert elephants roam.

The land is state-owned and primarily used by farmers for subsistence livestock farming, where conflicts between people and their elephant neighbours happen frequently. The PEACE project teaches residents essential facts about how elephants live and behave, how to interpret elephant behaviour, and how to protect themselves and their livelihoods during encounters with elephants.

Mr Dearmer said: "We will complete the hike over a period of three days from December 10 - 12 during hours of daylight.

"After 30 years in the hotel industry in numerous countries around the world, my wife, daughter and I decided to return to the UK, so 21 years ago we drove around the UK looking for a place to put down our roots. We decided to make Banbury our 'base' - a decision we have never regretted.

Desert elephants can smell water from miles away and will walk long distances to reach it

"I retrained as an English teacher and taught for several years before deciding to retire. With the coming of my retirement, I looked around for something interesting to do and spent a lot of time researching possible volunteer projects.

"I finally found one which was beneficial to endangered wildlife and the communities they move through. My affinity with wildlife and particularly African wildlife comes from my upbringing in the country now known as Zimbabwe," he said.

"I have visited Namibia to work on these projects on five occasions but was halted for the last two years by the Covid pandemic. The reason that my two ex-EHRA colleagues, Helen Burt and Rhiannon Sully, have decided to fundraise by walking across Dartmoor in winter is that EHRA is not a charity, but operates solely on funds derived from volunteers who are no longer able to visit, again because of the pandemic.

"EHRA staff in Namibia, which is run and managed by a lady from Wallingford, Oxfordshire, climbed the highest mountain in Namibia, in order to raise funds. Our adventure in Dartmoor is intended to emulate their achievement, although with totally different weather and backgrounds.

Volunteers visit the desert areas to help build protective walls around water stores and also excavate alternative supplies for the elephants

"Ever since my first visit to EHRA, I have been overwhelmed by the concern that they have in protecting these totally unique wild elephants by not only educating the local community but working, physically on the ground, to assist these communities. The work is strenuous, dirty but ultimately totally satisfying for the soul.

"We are going to attempt our own version of EHRA's Brandburg mountain challenge by replicating the number of hours walked by the EHRA team (eight hours a day) over the period of three days."

To support this work with elephants in Namibia go to the fundraising page here.

Mr Dearmer said Namibians in rural areas often lack educational opportunities beyond school in order to take a real role in the management of protection, and often their needs and viewpoints are overlooked, leading to further conflict.

Elephants in search of water can devastate substance farmers' wells and shelters

The PEACE project gives them the power to understand how to manage the elephants, benefitting them all.

Mr Dearmer hopes to be able to offer his English teaching skills freely to the communities, in the EHRA education centre, to allow them to secure jobs and obtain driving licences.

"It costs around £100 a month for WiFi and I would love to be able to supply books and a computer in order to teach the lessons. We have aimed to raise £2000 for the completion and initial start up costs.

"Any donation, no matter how small would all help to keep this amazing education centre open, and I hope people will support us in completing our Dartmoor challenge."

To see more fascinating information about the problems elephants and humans experience in desert areas of Namibia see the EHRA website here.