Resort architect and environmentalist Bill Bensley has teamed up with jewellery designer Kate McCoy to create Nature's Treasury, a collection to support conservation in Cambodia. Gayatri Bhaumik caught up with them for a (socially-distanced) chat.
Nature's Treasury Bamboo collection.
First things first - so how did this collaboration come about?
KM: Bill and I met by chance at Shinta Mani Wild. He sat next to me at breakfast one morning and we got to chatting about nature and design and the important work of Wildlife Alliance. Our values aligned and the creative spark ignited an amazing opportunity for design to support nature conservation in a beautiful and luxurious way.
BB: Kate was moved by our conservation work and wanted to help ensure we can keep passing down this nature through the generations, which is something I fiercely believe in. Over a few drinks at the Landing Zone Bar, we started dreaming up what this could look like, and Kate took it from there.
Bill Bensley, founder of Shinta Mani Wild tented camp resort in Cambodia.
Tell us a little more about Wildlife Alliance and how Shinta Mani Wild supports the local community?
KM: Wildlife Alliance was founded in 1955 by Suwanna Gauntlett. It’s an international not-for-profit organisation that has completed work in Russia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, and Ecuador and has ongoing programs in Cambodia.
As a guest of Shinta Mani Wild, I had the pleasure of going on patrol with the Wildlife Alliance rangers by motorbike for five hours through the Cardamon National Park and Shinta Mani Wild Jungle. To experience their conservation work first hand was exhilarating and not without hard work too. The terrains through the jungle are dense and muddy with leeches and snakes and wild buffalo. I dare say, it's not your average jungle safari! These amazing rangers have incredible tracking skills not only for animals but for illegal loggers too. We successfully confiscated a chainsaw and petrol canisters as well as some animal snares on our patrol that day. Wildlife Alliance is the real deal. They're on the ground making a real difference every day and they need our support, even more so with COVID disrupting the economy and travel.
Proceeds from every guest at Shinta Mani Wild go towards supporting a dedicated Wildlife Alliance Ranger Station. And 70% of Shinta Mani Wild's 120 staff members are from the local village who, prior to the opportunity to work in hospitality, were poaching and illegally cutting trees. Shinta Mani does what it can to minimise the impact on the environment, such as bottling its own water, using its own containers, and not using single-use plastics.
How will this collaboration further Wildlife Alliance’s work?
BB: To give you an idea, a donation of US$500 ensures protection for the forest and its inhabitants for up to 10 days.
Ziplining through the forest into Shinta Mani Wild.
With the resources from a Nature’s Treasury donation, we can expand our team at Wildlife Alliance to patrol more areas, invest in equipment such as camera traps to see which creatures are returning to this part of the Cardamoms, and track down more poachers and loggers. The latter especially is ever-more important as this unique year continues. It’s my hope that the Cardamoms will be allowed to re-wild – that the animals will return, the flora will burst forth even more than it does now, and that it can be a haven. I want it to be a place which continues to set the example for conservation and hospitality working together.
KM: Just as heirloom jewellery is passed down through generations, we believe that nature, too, is a legacy worth investing in.
Our collaboration aims specifically to fund the Wildlife Alliance rangers at the Shinta Mani Wild post who protect the area from poaching and illegal logging. In ascertaining the running costs for the patrols, we’ve been able to calculate a metric that outlines how much area can be protected (in acres) and for how many days.
Bill Bensley with park rangers at the local ranger station.
As all profits from the collection go to this initiative we’ve been able to look at the jewellery as a means to protect so many acres for so many days. Not only are you buying a beautiful piece of art that will last a lifetime, you’re also protecting a critical wildlife corridor in one of Asia’s most important pieces of forest.
What was the inspiration for the collection?
KM: From a shared desire to protect nature. The project has provided the platform to join our aligned values, expertise, and skills to facilitate accountable conservation. The inspiration for the individual pieces came from my first-hand experience of Shinta Mani Wild. It’s such a special place – from the moment you zipline over the jungle treetops, you’re present within nature. Everything is inspiring!
I loved Bill’s use of black and white stripes, and the forms in Prang Khmer architecture that are present throughout the property. The wild orchids that grow here are so breath-taking – I simply had to create orchid-inspired pieces.
There’s more to these pieces than just beautiful gemstones and fine craftsmanship. What should people understand about these jewellery pieces?
KM: The pieces are all limited edition (there are only five of each) and come with gem and edition certificates. Some are one-of-a-kind due to the nature of the rare gems used. Plus, each piece has been handmade using 18 karat gold and fine gems. These pieces are an investment, not only in the jewels, but also in the legacy of what they protect.
Each piece has been ethically made, meaning they’ve had no negative impact on the people who make it or the environment they’re made in. In other words, fair wages and fair working conditions. When I source my jewels, I always seek to buy them first-hand wherever possible. This way, I can work with the company to ensure that they pay their staff fairly and that they have good working conditions. I work with suppliers who buy their rough gems from fair trade suppliers or use the Kimberley Process, a certification scheme that imposes extensive requirements on its members. Where possible, I also work with metal merchants who recycle gold.
Purchase the Nature’s Treasury collection online.
Buyers will receive an exclusive 10% discount on a future stay at Shinta Mani Wild (3 nights minimum) or a minimum six-night package between Bensley Collection Shinta Mani Siem Reap Pool Villas and Shinta Mani Wild.