My blog on Monday, which questioned the claim of the National Trust to be one of Europe’s leading nature conservation organisations attracted many comments from you.
I’m very pleased to post here a reply from David Bullock the Head ofNature Conservation at the National Trust. I’ll come back to this subject, myself, on Monday.
We don’t expect you to be shy of presenting us with a robust challenge. You are, however, wide of the mark on this one.
Conservation is our lifeblood. It’s what we exist for. It’s what our 4 million members pledge their money towards. Frankly, it would be nonsense to suggest otherwise.
However you judge it – membership, landholdings, the state of our natural capital – we’re by definition one of Europe’s leading nature conservation organisations.
Your main point, however, is about measurement. How do our members and supporters know that their money is being put to good effect? And how do we satisfy ourselves that we’re spending that money to the best possible purpose?
These are good questions, which we ask ourselves all the time. One measure is output – how much we spend each year on conservation. £20m is the figure that we’ve widely used, but by itself isn’t the sum total we spend on nature conservation each year. It doesn’t include, for example, the money that our tenants receive from agri-environment schemes (75% of them receive substantial funding in this way).
In England alone, for our tenants’ land and the much smaller part that we manage in hand, as of August 2011 (latest figures) Higher Level Schemes on our land supported 278 km of boundary (hedge/wall/ditch), 9,800 metre squares of pond restoration and creation, and 1,693 ha of scrub management. I hope that you’re not suggesting that nature conservation doesn’t benefit from such HLS agreements?
There are plenty of examples of where our land management, often supported by funding other than from agri-environment schemes has had tangible impacts:
• For many years we were protecting the only cranes breeding in the UK; without us, the decline of wild asparagus would have continued and the cirl bunting would be having an even tougher time.
• We worked with the RSPB, English Nature and The Landmark Trust to eradicate rats from the island of Lundy to save the Manx shearwaters there from extinction.
• We’ve just finished a really successful project – half funded by Natural England 2010 – Countdown funds on Conservation and Restoring Traditional Orchards in England. Take a look at the Project Scrapbook on the website we developed as part of that project (http://www.orchardnetwork.org.uk/). This project funded 58 orchard projects all of which will benefit conservation of wild and domesticated biodiversity, engaging people in the process. Good nature conservation is measurable over time; this project has a serious amount of legacy.
• With Biffa funding we’re restoring blanket bog in Wales, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales, our extensive holding in the uplands means that we must work hard to hold on to the peatlands there – and our whole estate carbon audits at Wallington and Wimpole are considered exemplary. Some of this work is extraordinarily hard and we can’t do it alone. You know that some of the Peak District peatlands are amongst the most degraded upland landscapes and will take decades or even centuries of care before we hope to restore their condition. But we usually own our land forever – it can never be sold – so we can and do plan for centuries ahead. Have a look at the amazing restoration management we’re doing in these habitats: http://bit.ly/yDSyj0
• And what’s the definitive reference for management of bats that roost in historic buildings? It’s Bats and Historic Buildings – http://bit.ly/wqNREZ – written by us and funded by Natural England and English Heritage. Why did we write it? Because there are so many bat roosts in our buildings and we look after them well.
Finally, in terms of natural capital, we know a lot about what we own because our in-house Biological Survey Team has surveyed and evaluated over 90% of our land. Have a look at an example of one of Biological Surveys of land that was not acquired for nature conservation (http://bit.ly/yCeezx – PDF). We’ll repeat the survey and track changes over time to determine whether our management (in places like the Wiltshire chalk – often reversion from arable to flower-rich permanent pasture) has worked.
We also have more direct ways of measuring the impact of our work. Our Conservation Performance Indicator is a key performance metric for the organisation, providing a direct assessment of the conservation condition of every one of our places and spaces. It’s fair to say that we often haven’t acquired land because of its high nature value – there are many reasons why we have sought to acquire land ranging from protection from development to allowing it express its dynamism. Having said this at least 30% of our land is designated as SSSI or ASSI and, our surveys and those of the country agencies indicate that it’s improving in condition. So over 95% of our Biological SSSIs in England were in ‘Favourable’ or ‘Unfavourable Recovering’ condition at the end of 2010, rising to just over 97% in November 2011. Meanwhile 96.4% of our purely geological SSSIs in England are in a Favourable Condition; they’re part of nature too and we’re rightly proud of our management of two World Heritage Sites designated for geological features: the Jurassic Coast and the Giant’s Causeway.
There’s always room for improvement, and we’re always keen to find new ways to assess the difference we make and to be held to account for our actions. It’s maybe not as simple as comparing the number of butterflies on our land with the number on the remaining 98% of the country – interesting though such a figure might be – and we’re seeking this information and the same for bats and birds. But our members, supporters, governance volunteers and expert advisers are hardly shy of telling us where they think we’ve got it right, and where we could do better.
We recognise that we need to do more to tell our wildlife story to our members and visitors and shine a light on all of the wonderful work that our rangers, volunteers and wildlife advisers do across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Best wishes and thanks for the challenge,
Head of Nature Conservation, National Trust
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