National Trust turns Natural Trust?

The National Trust has a poor reputation amongst wildlife conservation organisations.  This stems from  a couple of things. First, the National Trust could do so much more to help nature, given its massive membership, large landholding and rich resources. This has been the case for many years.  Second, despite the low priority that the NT gives to nature conservation, it certainly makes the most in media terms of any nature conservation work with which it is involved (even if that involvement is rather low key).

It has always seemed that the NT prioritises buildings above landscape, and landscape above wildlife but there are occasional glimmers of hope that wildlife might get a better look-in. We are in one of those glimmers right now, given the headlines which appeared last week:

National Trust to help endangered species by creating acres of wildlife-friendly areas – Sunday Express
National Trust returns to roots to reverse decline of threatened wildlife – Daily Telegraph
Vole lot of love.  National Trust planning improved natural habitats to support struggling species like cuckoos and water voles – The Sun
National Trust to turn farmland into wildlife habitats – Farmers Weekly
National Trust to create and restore ‘priority’ wildlife habitats on its land – Horticulture Week
National Trust farms to produce less food – The Times

Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape and Nature, was widely quoted as saying ‘Nature has been squeezed out to the margins for far too long. We want to help bring it back to the heart of our countryside‘, ‘Our charity was founded to protect our natural heritage and we believe we should be playing an active role in reviving it by doing what we can on our own land‘ and ‘Birds such as the cuckoo, lapwing and curlew are part of the fabric of our rural heritage.  But they’ve virtually disappeared from the countryside. We want to see them return to the fields, woods and  meadows again, along with other wildlife which was once common and is now rare‘.

Lots of good newspaper coverage there then! The gist of what the NT plans to do is by 2025 is not entirely clear from reading the press coverage as the journalists don’t seem to have understood what’s happening very well. From the NT website it is clearer that NT plans to create wildlife-rich habitats on 10% of its own land –  c25,000 acres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and to encourage its tenants to do more for wildlife on 50% of the tenanted farmed land.

In return for this rather vague statement the NT was rewarded with this approbation by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom; ‘The National Trust has always been synonymous with our beautiful countryside, and I welcome plans to create thousands of hectares of new habitat for some of our most important species.  It is my ambition that we become the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it, and we can only do this by working closely with farmers and landowners – growing hedgerows, restoring earth banks and creating wetlands.  I’m really pleased nature will be prioritised across the Trust’s farmland, supporting even more of our plants and wildlife and helping deliver our target to create 200,000 hectares of priority habitat by 2020.‘.

Is this the NT changing direction? Or is it keeping to its past track of talking big and acting small? We’ll see.

A few things that NT might want to do for wildlife:

  • tell the world more precisely what its wildlife ambitions are and how we will know if they are achieved
  • monitor farmland bird populations on its farm and publish the long-term trends in numbers each year (compared with national BBS figures)
  • find non-shooting tenants for its moorland in the Peak District
  • ban the use of lead ammunition on its land
  • speak out on nature conservation matters


What would you like to see the NT doing for wildlife?


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32 Replies to “National Trust turns Natural Trust?”

  1. Yes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. I think it may be, as you say Mark, taiking big and acting small. I hope not, but I do wonder if they have all the expertise to do what they are proposing. For example I would have thought they would want to establish an arrangement with the RSPB to provide the NT with expert advice on generating the best habitat for birds as well as with other specialist organisations for the skills and knowledge needed for improving habitats for butterflies and other invertebrates as well as for reptiles and amphibians.
    The essence of this NT initiative, it seems to me, must be to work together with other conservation organisations regarding expert advice. I doubt they will achieve much on their own in isolation.

  2. Identifying the most boring, wildlife depleted areas of farmland in the UK, buying some of that land and leasing it to landless young farmers who would be contracted to replicate the RSPB’s successful Hope Farm experiment.
    The nearer these sites are to conurbations and the more accessible they are to the public the better. If the NT has got the gumption to buy ordinary properties like John Lennon’s birthplace then it has got the imagination too. But has it the will to act on such ideas and take advice from the likes of the RSPB which knows how to tweak modern farming so that everybody and everything wins?

      1. Nice one.
        The ‘iconic landscape’ of the Lake District is a joke: 'Geology without the ecology' – (a George Monbiot quote?) It’s also without ‘the economy’ because only the well off can afford to live there.
        No, I was thinking of flat, mind numbingly drear agricultural land where, for example, Skylarks were once frequent 30 years ago but are now absent along with a host of other farmland species. A lot of these ‘anti-iconic’ landscapes are very near to cities.
        If physicists can create antimatter, why can’t some of us create ‘anti-national parks’ if we want to? What a fun experiment it would be using all those simple Hope Farm interventions. And what an antidote and lesson for all those places like the Lakes and South Downs National Parks with their massive acceleration of house prices attended by super-conducting smugness. And then to do it all for a tenth of the cost and still produce food and jobs at the same time.
        Forget the Hadron Collider and all those weird symbols and formulae, this is where it’s at:
        NT + (-NP) = +^ BBSi% + £££ +^ ‘=ness’ +^ 🙂

  3. Why not a plan to create wildlife-rich habitats on 100% of its own land ?
    As a NT member that's what I want....

  4. The NT allows fox hunting on its land in the form of "trail hunting" which has been proven to be nothing more than an alibi for actual fox hunting ( Even when hunts are proven to be acting illegally the NT refuses to remove their licenses to use NT land. They also refuse to publish a list of hunt meets on their land even though they say these are available upon request.

    They keep spouting the same old line when challenged on these issue but then I guess when you have a keen hunter and an HRH as your head what else would you expect? The simple fact is the NT aren't interested in conservation but love the money hunting and shooting brings to them.

  5. They do have a bit of a poor reputation: but they have introduced biodiversity targets for their shooting tenants, including having to show an improvement in raptor numbers. They have also shown that they are prepared to revoke shooting rights for tenants who break the law. That says two things: 1) they control whether or not shooting is allowed on their land (as with trail hunting - although they are being conned by the criminals over that) and 2) they will take action when evidence of criminal activity is brought to their attention.

    I still resihned my membership over their ambivalence over hunting and the badger cull however.

  6. Only time will tell how serious they are, but, with the amount of land they hold, they are a vital component in the conservation and protection of the natural world. Bricks and mortar can always be replaced - St George's Chapel e.g. even if it does cost quite a bit, but a grubbed out ancient woodland, and the biodiversity associated with it, is totally lost.
    Before an election, I often ask the candidates if they belong to any wildlife NGOs. So far, it's been a 'No', except for some in the NT. So, it's down to the NT to influence that section of the population. Some radical changes in their mindset which will put wildlife to the top of their agenda is needed.

  7. Until the major wildlife conservation organisations consistently act together in an integrated and strategic fashion, I see little prospect of them exerting the political and practical clout needed to have a significant impact upon biodiversity declines. Depressingly, their overwhelming reliance on membership income means market competition is always likely to get in the way of the long term, shared agenda and action needed to make a meaningful difference, as opposed to tinkering at the margins.

    1. Not all strategies have to be "joined up" in terms of everyone pulling in the same direction and presenting a united front. To be honest I actually prefer laisses faire leadership with all the bickering and infighting. Imagine a load of actors tasked with walking from A to B. Each with their own entourage. Now they would all be bickering and infighting every step of the way and pundits would have you believe that all the drama of this was somehow significant. But its not. What is important is weather they have moved towards B. What ultimately interests me is the question, can you get a load of actors to move at all without a stick to beat them with?

      1. Well, 'laissez faire leadership' is certainly failing the UK's wildlife on current evidence:
        - biodiversity continues to decline.
        - political indifference to wildlife & the environment seem greater than ever.
        - public engagement with nature is largely confined to the sofa.
        - the corporate sector shows little interest in nature conservation, despite much talk of an increasingly purpose-led business environment.

        Which particular stick would you choose to beat them with?

        1. Yes but it isn't laisses faire leadership, the reason is that there is no actual political will to change anything. They say there is and cite their superficial initiatives as evidence of their willingness to change things, but it's "pissing in the wind" for want of a better term.

  8. They are keen on guided walks and info on the "bricks and mortar" and family history and bits inside. Why dont they run guided tours (on trailers) of the rest of the great estates farmland. After all that is where the money came from to maintain the b&m and there is a lot of history there and they could bring it up to date with conservation information. Plenty to talk about. I mention "Country file" here with trepidation but it has a keen following. I am sure they would have a good take up.

  9. I think that this years AGM will be huge for the NT, they have lost a lot of members (my self included) in the last year due to the raising of awareness of their stance on hunting and shooting, the NT Facebook page is working against them at the moment as everything they post is answered with questions about hunting. The NT will hopefully be driven by common sense and if not then by economic need to becoming a more wildlife friendly organisation.

  10. I wrote quite a detailed letter to Director-General Helen Ghosh on 07/02/17 about my dissatisfaction with the issuing of shooting licences for Hope Woodlands & Park Hall Estate in the Peak District National Park. I have been a NT member for decades and for a long time lived on the fringes of the Peak. On 25/02 I had a reply from a "Correspondence Co-ordinator" saying my letter had been passed to the regional team.

    I have heard nothing since.

    In any case, I would have thought it was a general policy issue, not just a regional one. The Trust must own the shooting rights or it couldn't issue licences/leases. A very disappointing response - or rather - lack of response.

    1. Interesting question about the Hunting, Shooting, and Fishing rights. Do they own them? I've never got a straight answer from the NT and NTS (or even the same answer twice) to that simple question of do they own those. When they bought the crumbling estates did they also buy those HSF rights too or were they retained to be sold and traded separately and the Trust had to guarantee land access for those. Nobody seems to know. The NT has always been so focused on the buildings and gardens that it is entirely possible that, in some cases at least, they failed to acquire those HSF rights (and possibly farming rights) to the wider landscape too as a trade off in negotiation of price.

    2. For comparison, I wrote to both Helen Ghosh and the Peak District area manager about not reappointing a shooting tenant when the lease comes up at Black Peak. Several weeks later I received a longish (1.5 pages) reply from the area manager only (can't think of the guy's name, and letter not to hand right now). All credit to him, he had clearly read my letter (so at least he is aware of the views expressed therein !) and made a real effort to personalise the reply. But, for whatever reason, he had nothing of real substance to offer on the issue at hand, so objectively I am no further on in knowing what the NT intends to do when the lease comes up.

  11. Stop all hunting with dogs on land owned by NT. Don't care if HRH is upset, the little people are even more upset that you allow this outdated practice. Perhaps you could bring back cock-fighting, or using little boys to clean the chimneys?

    1. Hi Gill, the Trust does not allow hunting with dogs on its land. That is actually against the law. It may be that the phrase "trail hunting" gives the wrong impression but those licences allow hounds to follow pre-laid scent trails. Where this happens, the organising Hunt are required to operate within both the spirit and the letter of the law. There are a few instances where trail hunting licences across Trust land have been declined due to a lack of confidence in a particular Hunt being able to show sufficiently good control of the trail hunt process, however as a traditional sporting activity to cease to allow properly organised trail hunts is seen as being inappropriate. I hope these comments are helpful.

  12. I withdrew my membership and legacy from the NT some years ago. Their preoccupation with bricks and mortar was the main reason as I became more concerned with the continued devastation of our countryside. I really do not see why they allow shooting and hunting on any of their land. All their farms could become organic and yes why are they not in the forefront of rewilding? For such a large land owner their conservation work does sometimes appear to fall into the lipservice catagory.

  13. Make any natural predator/species control a policy of absolute last resort on NT land.
    Prevent Badger cull on NT land (this was a vote their chairman cast in contradiction to the vote from the membership that resulted in my cancelled membership)

  14. I feel they are trying to superficially restore public faith due to the recent outcry about fox hunting on Trust land. It could also be a ploy to make the public think they are compassionate lovers of wildlife. They intend to "create 25,000 hectares for new habitats....", can't help being cynical, but is this a hidden agenda to allow hunts more land to hunt on, as many landowners are stopping access to them?
    The National Trust, is NOT to be trusted.
    I have been blocked from their Facebook site for posting the following, about the fact that they allow killers of wildlife on their land.
    So rather than address the issue, they block anyone who disagrees.
    They don't want me to spread the TRUTH.
    Their action smacks of COMPLICITY and GUILT, but they've done me a favour, as people will see their action for what it is, and I will continue to inform people of their bias towards hunts, and their indifference to our wildlife being killed, so apologies in advance for the long post.
    Public opinion is gathering pace, and people are seeing them for what they are, hence their current TV advert to muster new and unsuspecting members.

    "To all unsuspecting people, visitors, members, public -
    You need to be aware that foxes (and other wildlife) are illegally and barbarically tormented and ripped apart, on Trust land under the GUISE of "trail" hunting.
    The National Trust are aware and condone it, by the issuing of licences, and allowing hunts access. They hide behind the same template stock response.
    They state they "protect and care for nature", but this is obviously selective, and if you are a fox, you don't stand a chance.
    The National Trust has blood on their hands.
    Why do they issue licences to hunts to allow these barbaric, murderous gangs of sadists, free access, on land they should be looking after on the Nation's behalf?
    The arrogance, from the likes of the Atherstone hunt, the disrespect for wildlife and the blatant disregard for the fox-hunting ban, disgusts any sane, normal, human being.
    They hide behind "trail" hunting, as a PRETENCE, as a way to flout the ban.
    The ban has been blatantly ignored since it was introduced, and hunts continue to trample the countryside, spilling dangerously onto roads, endangering hounds' lives, and peoples' lives, "accidentally" running into people's gardens, (even a hospice grounds recently) to terrorise foxes, until the hounds RIP them to pieces, under the guise of "trail" hunting.
    Now this recent horrific attack on an elderly couple and their pet dog on a beach, in Cornwall, on National Trust land. Another of a cat with its face ripped open. Now, an outbreak of Bovine TB where hounds have had to be destroyed, (and the strangely, very audible silence from Defra, and no signs of any action to investigate!)
    Dressed in silly costumes with their slaves/servants (terrier men) on quad bikes, with shovels to block badger setts or to dig foxes out, with terriers in boxes ready to flush foxes out, or to throw bred/captive foxes to the pack.
    National Trust - the onus is on YOU, and it is YOUR responsibility to monitor and check, every time a hunt goes on Trust land, as you have issued the licences. It is also no good doing spot checks, or relying on evidence gleaned from a third party. Someone needs to be with the hunt the entire time, to ensure they are doing things legally. I do not believe that happens. Unfortunately though, even if someone was given that task, I don't believe it would be someone impartial, as the National Trust, cannot be trusted.
    The National Trust is condoning this. The trustees must all be cut from the same cloth, with friends in high places, so will continue to turn a blind eye, and justify that the licences they issue are for "trail" hunts, and therefore legal. You obviously care more for bricks and mortar, than the cruel suffering of our wildlife.
    You can keep hiding behind this charade if you like, but people are intelligent enough to see through it. You DO condone it, if you didn't you would BAN it completely. It is YOUR responsibility to monitor and control what happens on Trust land. It is NOT down to a third party.
    Shame on you!
    Only when you STOP hunts on Trust land will you be taken seriously.
    The power of social media is having a huge effect, and more and more people are being made aware of these barbaric monsters, on Trust land.
    Hunt supporters argue that fox-hunting is a tradition, but just because something has been carried out in the past, does NOT give it validation for continuing into the future, and definitely NOT in the 21st century.
    All good, compassionate people, everywhere, will carry on the momentum to spread awareness, and stop this ban from being repealed, which is something this Government wants to do, even though the majority of the population, some 84%, (and therefore likely, the majority of your membership!!) find fox-hunting ABHORRENT.
    ALL hunting should be ABOLISHED.
    Already, your membership is decreasing. So many people who were unaware, are now voting with their consciences, and their purses, and have decided not to join, have cancelled, or will not be renewing their membership.
    Perhaps you will only act when your coffers are depleted.
    How long have you been copying and pasting the same repetitive garbage, which incidentally, never answers individual concerns raised?
    Your silence in answering all our justified concerns, speaks volumes, when the simple answer should be that you will BAN ALL hunts from Trust land. Doesn't get any simpler than that!!
    You are therefore complicit in the murder of foxes (and other wildlife), on land entrusted to you to look after, on behalf of us, the Nation!!
    Also therefore the likely disingenuous use of donations/funds given to you by unsuspecting people who would be appalled to know your real stance on hunting.

    "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil,
    is for good men to do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

    And there are more good people out there than there are bad, and WE have had enough!!"

    1. I suspect you were banned for using too many capitals. It's the online equivalent of shouting, and nobody likes shouty people

  15. The National Trust allows terrier men to accompany hunts onto their land. Terrier men block setts and earths to prevent foxes going to ground whilst being hunted. They carry spades to dig out foxes that have managed to go to ground and they bring bagged foxes to release if no local foxes can be found to chase and kill. I have repeatedly asked the NT why they allow theses terrier men but they can't answer me. If hunts are trail hunting, the only extra person they need is the one laying the trail for the hunt to follow. The NT gets money from hunts for the licences they issue - enough said!

  16. I withdrew my NT membership. It was basically for me expensive parking if I was a non member and cheaper parking with membership. But I have been quite disappointed with them generally and particularly over wildlife conservation on moorlands they manage. For me they have been complicit in raptor persecution and "the sterilisation" of our countryside.

    Charity organisations are like many other organisations and that is populated with people who really don't see the obvious. I don't doubt for a minute that they are not populated with nice people, but there is something about career charity managers willingness to get into bed with the wrong people that has me seriously worried. Actually that applies to ALL management.

  17. I worked for the RSPB for sixteen years and moved to the National Trust as a result of them deciding to step up their efforts to save nature. It is exciting to be at the start of that journey.

    The National Trust already does a lot of good work for nature, but what I have been impressed with in the short time that I have been with them, that they put their money where there mouth is and gets stuff done. At a time when the statutory agencies have diminished budgets and other NGOs have stretched resources, it is great that the NT is joining the fray.

    I am in regular contact with the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts looking for opportunities to collaborate and share. For example, this week a delegation from the National Trust is at the RSPB's Hope Farm learning techniques that can be applied to our own farmed estate.

  18. Like Carole above, I also wrote to Dame Helen Ghosh to immediately congratulate the NT on taking the brave decision to evict their shooting tenant from the iconic moors around Kinder Scout/Bleaklow in the Hope Woodlands and Park Hall estates. Unlike Carole I didn't get a response.

    But I did get the support of 15 local wildlife and outdoor organisations who all put their names as sponsors of a petition aimed at letting the Derbyshire people who use these moors have a chance to say "well done", and to tell the National Trust they they don't want to see another grouse shooting tenant on these iconic moorland estates. There are plenty of those on the surrounding moors in private hands and, as a result, many are in a terrible state of over-management, depauperate in biodiversity and failing to deliver the expected ecosystem services.

    I hope Symon Pryor appreciates the ease with which the National Trust could create a gun and wildlife-crime free wilderness of 8,000 hectares simply by not seeking another shooter. Parts of Kinder Scout are being brilliantly restored, but other parts most definitely are not. Without another tenant, there'd be no need for flubendazole-medicated grit trays scattered across parts of the Kinder Scout plateau, no burning (yes it has still gone on in places), less chance of persecution of raptors and fewer incentives for camouflaged men with guns and plastic hen harrier decoys to take them for walks on NT land. Plus, there'd be less damage from old tracks being resurfaced for off-road vehicles and no new butts being constructed on the SSSI/SAC/SPA. Reptiles and plants that can't cope with burning would start to recover and recolonise, and the landscape would be so less bare. This could be the kernel of an exciting rewilding scheme for the National Trust here in the Peak District, and everyone of us would be behind them. After all, this is the goal of the NT's own High Peak Vision.

    37% of the 1,059 people who signed our paper petitions at local meetings around the county declared themselves to be NT members - they want to know that the NT are listening and not sticking dogmatically to the line of "where there's been shooting in the past, we want it to carry on". All this could be set in motion by simply NOT appointing another grouse shooting tenant. And it would better deliver the NT's High Peak Vision, which clearly shooting tenants never will. We might start to get our hen harriers, peregrines and goshawks back again, too.

    This week, I wrote to Andy Beer, Regional Director, to tell him I wanted to present both him and Dame Helen Ghosh with all the signatures that our local campaign has elicited, and asked when or if they will be making that decision to search for another grouse-shooting tenant. I await his reply, and especially in hearing from him (or from Symon) that the NT has decided it will no longer let out any grouse shooting rights on these two wonderful Derbyshire moorland estates.

    Nick Moyes
    Coordinator, Moorland Vision

  19. we would like to know what areas are conserved in full. what areas are totally protected from hunts, quad bikes and terrier men. hunts have access to areas with guidelines to stay away from ground nesting bird sites. this is wholly inadequate. The National Trust has a long way to go and we are all looking to see improvements

  20. I think the National Trust being such a large landowner has the potential to create some great wildlife-watching experiences within its landscapes, if it wants to. It should - as we need to enthuse more young people to get into wildlife and stay interested - by that I mean enthusing those that enjoy animals if they say go to a zoo or see 'iconic' wildlife like seals and deer .... but getting them interested at a deeper level is another matter. We need more landscapes, especially in England, where people can go on a trek and have rich wildlife experiences - not just moving from one hide to another - and not travelling hundreds of miles to see a small number of 'rarities'. In the absence (mostly) of wildlife-rich national parks (in England at least), the NT has the land and resources to create such experiences. And I'm sure many like myself might join the NT if they started doing more for wildlife.


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