Helen Buckland (OS 1999) is Director at Sumatran Orangutan Society. Her passion started when she was at Sevenoaks School, where her interest in travelling was sparked during a Geography field trip to Morocco. Her interest in primates was then triggered during A’ level Biology and AS Psychology, where she learned about their intelligence and ability to communicate.

“During my Masters, I undertook some research on the threat of the palm oil industry to orangutans and their rainforest habitat. This led to me working with Friends of the Earth and the Ape Alliance on a campaign to push UK companies to stop sourcing palm oil that had been produced at the expense of forests and wildlife. Since 2005, I have been running the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), a conservation NGO which partners with frontline organisations to tackle the causes of deforestation and species in decline in Indonesia. 

Highlights include supporting the planting of over 2 million trees to restore degraded forests in and around the Leuser Ecosystem, the passing of new EU legislation regarding the labelling of palm oil on food packaging through our Clear Labels, Not Forests campaign, putting on a major photography exhibition in London, and jumping out of a plane dressed as an orangutan! We have raised millions of pounds to support vital conservation efforts, developed hard-hitting campaigns and impactful projects, and built a global movement to help us shine a spotlight on Sumatra's incredible wildlife and wild places.

The Sevenoaks alumni network has also been a great source of support for the work of SOS over the years. I'd certainly encourage current pupils to seriously consider turning their passions into their careers, or developing their philanthropy to support organisations building a brighter future for our planet.”