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?