At last week’s conference at Newton Rigg, the Director General of the National Trust (and former top-mandarin at Defra) Dame Helen Ghosh spoke.
I know Helen just a little, having met her in her Defra role but the longest time I have ever spent in her company was when I showed her around the RSPB nature reserve at Minsmere near the beginning of her time at Defra. I had a chat with her at the conference, before she spoke, and said that I hoped she would mention the excellent NT High Peak vision – and she said she would. And she did.
Helen set out what NT were planning to do in the context of their overall work in the uplands. She made the point, and reiterated it in response to questions, that the NT exists to deliver its charitable objects, and not to be nice to its tenants (even though the NT obviously wouldn’t want to be nasty to its tenants). NT exists to deliver a public benefit and it is in that context that they will deliver their High Peak Vision.
It was a polished performance.
The subject of ‘rewilding’ came up – because the NT vision for the High Peak is a nod in that direction. I touched on this subject too, the next day, in my talk. There is something to be said for ‘rewilding’ – certainly in contrast to the ‘dewilding’ of the uplands that goes on across grouse moors.
A more natural, less intensive land management may well have its place in the uplands of Britain. The argument would be that a more natural landscape might well deliver more public benefit than an intensively managed one. Will less grazing, less drainage and less predator control deliver a landscape with more carbon sequestration, better water quality, less flooding and a more diverse wildlife community? The answer might well be ‘yes’. It’s certainly worth investigating on a large scale in upland areas.
Landowners should expect to be paid for delivering these public benefits instead of following more traditional economic activities in the uplands – like sheep farming. The economics of upland land use are complicated and interesting and I’ll come back to them, in a fairly simple way, tomorrow. But you can take it from me, that if you pay your taxes in the UK, you are already investing in the uplands so, to my mind, you have a say.