A response to Mark Avery’s blog An everyday tale of country folk.
Thanks Mark (!) for throwing down another gauntlet, for one of us in ‘Dame Fiona’s team” to pick up. I’m a relative newcomer to the Trust, but let me pick up this one, and tell you how I’ve found things on this highly charged subject.
Firstly, the Trust has been, and will remain, unequivocal and public in its condemnation of any persecution of birds of prey; by anyone and anywhere, but particularly on its land. Compliance with the law, and with codes of good practice, is built into the heart of our standard shooting tenancies. And I can assure you this view is universally held and forcefully expressed right across the Trust.
Even more passionately expressed is my colleagues’ desire to see wildlife flourish on every bit of our land. And just like the rest of us my new colleagues tend to get even more passionate when it comes to iconic species such as raptors. As one of the Peak team said to me this week: “Birds of prey are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem and we want to see them on our land in the Peak District just as much as on all the other places we own”.
Some posts here imply the Trust has been oblivious to the issue of persecution, or even turning a blind eye. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know my colleagues in the Peak District have been very concerned (and vocal) about the low numbers and poor breeding success of birds of prey for some time. Whilst I don’t think we can match Rod’s alarming tales of physical threats to the FC rangers, I can reassure you that tenants and game keepers have been made abundantly aware of our position on compliance with the law, and our goal of seeing healthy populations of birds of prey.
We would all have preferred to achieve this goal without the need for a court case. But we will be putting the recent legal outcome to positive use, using it to reinforce our messages to all our shooting tenants and via them to their employees – and thereby try to avoid it ever happening again.
It’s been great to hear how we’ve worked in close partnership with RSPB, Severn Trent, Raptor Groups, the Forestry Commission and the National Park over a number of years to try to reverse this downward trend in raptors. I gather when a pair of hen harriers recently nested in the Goyt valley we moved very quickly with the RSPB to support 24 hour-a-day surveillance.
Looking wider than the Peak, the Trust have put their name and given their support to the national campaigns on this issue, for example as partners with the RSPB for that excellent publication “Birds of Prey in the UK”. So we haven’t exactly been quiet and retiring on this issue.
I must admit it soon became obvious on joining the Trust that fieldsports in general are still a sensitive issue for the organisation. Our formal position no doubt took many hours of debate in the crucible of Council and Committees, but I find it a sound and solid basis for decision making. So for those of you who aren’t sure where we stand, here it is:
“The National Trust is very much aware of the importance of countryside traditions. We allow field sports to take place on our property where traditionally practised, providing they are within the law and are compatible with the Trust’s purposes, which include public access and the protection of rare animals and birds and fragile habitats.”.
One thing I really like about the Trust is how frequently we refer back to our “core purposes”. I can assure you that the searching question “What will best help us to look after special places, for everyone and for ever” is at the heart of decisions made on contentious subjects. And to answer your question Mark, I know this principle will be applied to the renewal of leases in the Dark Peak.
Our decisions aren’t always popular, and there are quite a few irate column inches emerging elsewhere this week as a consequence of a decision we’ve recently taken that effectively curtails a lowland pheasant shoot. It was clear to us that in this case the potential for public access was not compatible with the shoot, and things had to change to enable us to achieve our primary aims.
As Mike Price pointed out, we are (as we speak) taking a fundamental look at the future of the Dark Peak, with a live and wide ranging consultation on a Master Plan for our moorland landholding. I can assure you that conservation of rare species (including birds of prey) will be a key objective. As part of this exercise we will be working with our current sporting tenants to see whether the Trust’s objectives for conservation and access are compatible with their shooting objectives. Again, my local colleagues are unequivocal: “A change in the fortunes of birds of prey on Trust land in the Peak District will be an expectation in any shooting tenancy”.
So, picking up your final challenges Mark, I’m glad you are watching and waiting to see what we are going to do in the Peak; and we’d be even more pleased if you and others joined in directly via this consultation.
I’m relatively new to blogging, but that’s two challenges to the NT in less than a month. Are they like buses, and we can expect a third before too long? I’ve always valued your unequivocal challenges Mark, but I have to say some of us here are beginning to feel a bit persecuted ourselves!
Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director, National Trust