For Mark Constantine, cofounder and chief executive officer of Lush, business and pleasure often go hand-in-hand.
“I have my interests, and then I assume that I can’t bring them all to my work,” he said. But an effort to impress his wife spun his love of botany — an inspiration for the creation of Lush — into birding.
“I was 19, with my wife, and she was into birds,” Constantine said. “We were mainly interested in botany, that was my first interest — useful plants for everyday life, and obviously, I was very interested in using botanical things in products. Birding is much harder to do than botany because birds fly away, and you can’t dig it up. They’re not something that stay still for very long.”
That love of birding — coupling an encyclopedic knowledge of avian species with a competitive edge for bird races — has led to his philanthropic endeavors as well. Constantine cofounded the Birds of Poole Harbour Charity in the U.K., which facilitates commission surveys and field trips, as well as setting up webcams for international enthusiasts to partake. He takes about 1,000 school-age children onto the harbor every winter and, in 2017, the charity partnered with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to bring osprey back to the region.
“There are no ospreys in Europe — 200 years ago, there were ospreys here, but not now,” Constantine said. “We started to see if we could introduce them to our harbor, and there was an opportunity for reintroducing seagulls on the Isle of Wight, which I thought was a lovely idea.”
For his independent publishing house called The Sound Approach, which regularly publishes books on bird songs in various international locales, he sends fellow enthusiasts off to countries from Turkey to Oman for research. “I’m like the Victorian benefactor who sends people off, and they come back with their findings, and then we write it up,” he said. “That’s pretty much my role.”
Recreationally, he’s also competed in several bird races. “For seven years, I came to New Jersey and did the New Jersey bird race, where you compete with 60 to 70 other teams to see how many birds you can see and identify in a 24-hour period. I brought a team from Britain to compete,” he said.
Though holy grail sightings have eluded him, Constantine does have a few favorites. “The varied thrush — it’s a stunningly good looking bird,” he said. Other favorites include the Wilson’s plover and the Chuck-will’s-widow.
“I had to learn all these new birds; I became very interested in how you learn bird sounds. I visited Cornell University, and saw the stunning work they were doing. I talked to all their scientists, who could pick out the migrating birds at night from their calls, and I wanted to be able to do that. It worked out fairly well for me,” he said. “I’m a competitive bloke.”