Guest blog – The National Trust and Nature by Simon Pryor



Simon Pryor is the National Trust’ Natural Environment Director and is responding to my blog (and your comments) last week.




Hi Mark

I’m glad you wrote a blog on the announcement of out ‘ambitions for nature’; and as we’d all expect, you asked some probing and provocative questions!  So thanks for giving us the chance to respond.

Firstly, this announcement is exciting, but I don’t think we’d call it a change of direction for the Trust. Protecting plants and animals has been part of our ‘core purpose’ from the very beginning.  But we did make clear that the natural environment would be a big priority for us in the 10-year Strategy we launched in 2015.  And what we have just announced are the targets and plans we have developed to deliver this.  We have taken to heart the landscape scale approach, and used the mantra of ‘Better, Bigger, More and Joined’ from Making Space for Nature’ as the framework for our objectives, KPIs and targets.

Your first ‘ask’ was to be more precise, so here are some numbers:

We already look after 100,000 hectares of A/SSSIs, and although 97% are in Favourable or Recovering condition, we are redoubling our efforts to make all of them ‘Better’.  And we will be extending this to improving all the other areas of Priority Habitat on our land, which is at least another 30,000 hectares.

We followed Sir John Lawton’s rationale and put ‘Better’ first, but not surprisingly the figure that grabbed the media’s headlines is that we are planning to create or restore at least 25,000 hectares (not acres nor football pitches!) of new priority habitat by 2025.  It will be the full range of habitats, from blanket bog to sand dunes, and from mountain heath to wet woodland, reflecting the full range of land types we look after. We have deliberately not prioritised or prescribed what types of habitats, or where we want this to happen, as we want to take all the opportunities available and will be working with our farm tenants to see where the best places are for this.

Our other big ambition is for all our land to be what we are calling ‘high nature status’, and we have set ourselves a specific target to ensure all our in-hand land (c.110,000 ha) and half our tenanted land (approximately another 60,000 ha) will achieve this status by 2025.  This will make the land between and around our priority habitats much more ‘nature-friendly’ and therefore achieve the ecological connectivity that is needed (Joining up).  Again we can only achieve this by working closely with our farm tenants, and to define what this status is we are drawing on the evidence-based guidance brought together by the leading wildlife NGO’s on the FarmWildlife website.

You suggested that we check we are making progress by monitoring birds on our land – and that is exactly what we are doing.  In fact, we have been working with BTO, Bat Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife for a couple of years to monitor wildbirds (not just the farmland ones), bats, butterflies (‘Widespread’ and ‘Specialist’ species) and plants, beefing up the sampling on our land to make sure these provide a baseline.  So we will have independent and statistically robust indicator at a national level of whether we are achieving our aim of making our land ‘richer in wildlife’.  Don’t worry, we will be letting people know how this is going – in fact a couple of reports have already been published by BC and BTO.  Alongside this we are also exploring, with these organisations and other partners, what suite of species we should select to monitor at individual National Trust properties, in order to reveal critical and specific change for individual landscapes.

We hope that taking all this together it will be a significant contribution to reversing the decline in wildlife in Britain.  But we won’t be able to achieve it without working closely with our partner nature conservation organisations, with our tenants and with our supporters.  So whilst we won’t want to over-play it, I’m afraid we will be taking every opportunity to tell people about it.  We believe it’s important to encourage people to come and experience the “wow wildlife” at the places we look after, and to inspire them with stories about how nature is responding to all the changes we will be making.

Your final question is one we keep asking ourselves too: “What do you think NT should be doing for wildlife?” We are very keen to hear any suggestions.  Our Strategy places great emphasis on ‘being relevant to the nation’, and is not called ‘Playing our Part’ for nothing!

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41 Replies to “Guest blog – The National Trust and Nature by Simon Pryor”

  1. That is really great news that the National Trust is set to take a much more positive approach to nature conservation on its land at a time when or wildlife badly needs conserving.
    It's is good that they intend to take advice on habitat creation and improvement from other conservation organisations that specialise in certain ares of wildlife.
    I think it is also very important that they work with such organisations as the RSPB the Wildlife Trusts on developing bigger overall areas for nature. The RSPB has a very significant land holding of reserves in the UK and, for example it may well be worth improving a sizeable National Trust land holding that adjoins or is close to an RSPB reserve in order to create one very large area. On the whole the larger the area the better for nature. (Of course there are exceptions).
    So what I am suggesting is that some careful thought needs to given on the strategy and location of National Trust conservation work and not to rush in too quickly without good liaison with other conservation organisations.
    In this way the work that the National Trust does for nature is likely to be far more effective.

    1. Thanks Alan.
      We do have a pretty extensive range of wildlife experts and experienced habitat managers across the Trust - far more than I'd realised. But we are also aware that other conservation organisations have greater experience of creating new habiats. So we are really pleased that organisations like Plantlife, RSPB and Woodland Trust are already helping us, and we are exploring ways to widen this.
      You make a very important point about linking up with partners where we have land nearby, and we've been working closely with the other organisations with big land holdings, most notably the RSPB, Woodland Trust and Wildlife Trusts. Indeed, we had a meeting yesterday with the CEO's of all four of these organisations to discuss progress with this, and it was great to see their continued commitment to such landscape scale collaboration.

      1. Simon - are you only prepared to engage with the easy comments made here, i.e. that partnerships are a good thing? Well yes, that much is obvious, and NT alongside numerous other NGO's have been working in partnership for decades.

        Moving on.....

        The NT is basically institutionally dishonest with regard to fox hunting on its land. It is dishonest not to acknowledge the fact that hunts sending dogs across NT land do so to kill foxes. They are not drag hunting, and it is dishonest to NT to suggest that, as far as it's concerned, that's what they are up to. NT land should be safe havens for ALL nature and for people to enjoy nature. Instead, one minute people are enjoying foxes bathing in the sun in full view on NT downland, the next the NT allows hunters to send hounds running amok across the very same areas, chasing fox scents and flushing and killing any fox they encounter. For NT to deny that hounds instinctively follow fox scents is dishonest. It's is an utter disgrace.
        I wonder what else the NT is willing to be institutionally dishonest about?

  2. The post does to some extent answer some of Mark's questions in the earlier blog, for example regarding the monitoring of success and we shall have to see how the words translate into success or not in the years to come. The big gap in Symon's post is the question of grouse shooting and raptor persecution which is not referred to at all. This is a major issue affecting the conservation status of a key part of the Trust's landholdings and it would have been good to have had some thoughts from Symon as to how the Trust intends to deal with it within its ‘Better, Bigger, More and Joined’ strategy.

    1. Yes, where is your response (hopefully non "wishy washy") on driven grouse shooting and raptor persecution on NT land Mr. Pryor?! As a long time NT member I'd be extremely interested to see this please.

      1. And me........starting with not renewing shooting leases at Hope Woodlands & Park Hall Estate in the Peak District National Park.

      2. And as a recently rejoined member (on the back of the decision to terminate the shooting leases at Hope Woodlands and Park Hall) I'd like to see a statement on DGS and raptor persecution on trust property. I'm wondering if my rejoin decision wasn't a little hasty.

        1. My understanding is that they have terminated that syndicate's lease because of criminal actions, but that they are going to re-let to another shoot, probably in the near future. I hope I'm wrong.

  3. I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by NT managed land (on the Isle of Wight), and immeasurably frustrated that I still can't distinguished NT-owned, tenanted farmland from any other farmland! I see no evidence, at all, that the NT is emulating what RSPB has achieved at Hope farm, and GWCT at Loddington, on NT mixed farmland. I see no skylark plots, no well-managed wild bird cover, improved grassland that continues to have fertiliser added, year in, year out. NT-owned farmland should be hotspots of intensive habitat creation, not conventional farmland indistinguishable from all other farmland. In my experience, designated areas - chalk grassland mainly near me - that NT owns is generally very well managed, but the NT is failing on non-designated, NT-owned farmland.

    Simon, could you clarify what proportion of the 97% of your SSSI land is 'Favourable', and what proportion is 'Unfavourable recovering' (I notice you miss out the 'Unfavourable....', and just call it '.....Recovering')?. In my experience, an SSSI unit that is 'Unfavourable', can be stealthily re-classed as 'Unfavourable recovering' (or simply branded 'Recovering' in NT language) even if it just has a management plan - nothing need happen on the ground for the habitat condition to have been 'improved'. On a patch of chalk grassland SSSI near me, which was classed as 'Unfavourable', NE paid for stock fencing but the site has not been grazed and is now scrub, not chalk grassland - and it's classed as 'Unfavourable recovering'. I bet you that a large proportion of that 97% is actually in 'Unfavourable recovering' condition, i.e. still not being properly managed - still 'Unfavourable [recovering]'.

    And, although this is not a nature conservation issue as such, we have a family of foxes on a patch of very popular NT downland where I live, and these foxes regularly sunbathe by day in full view of people. Parents point the cubs out to their kids - the foxes are very visible during the day sunning themselves and people lie them. Why, then, was Hunt permitted to allow their hounds to sweep through this NT-owned nature reserve, chasing one adult fox whilst the huntsmen stood around on horse back, watching? Yes, this was reported, but the head of NT is a member of the hunt!

    NT land - funded by donors like me - should be safe havens for thriving nature, not intensive farmland or playgrounds for people blatantly killing our wildlife.

    1. Thanks Messi and James - you've fired me up to go to the IoW again soon!
      We aspire to exactly the same thing Messi: we want NT owned land to stand out as being really rich in wildlife, so you can see exactly where our boundary is.
      Funnily enough a group of us spent a day at Hope Farm and nearby Wimpole this time last week, comparing the different approaches. We were hugely impressed at the flocks of yellow hammers and linnets at Hope Farm; but the field margins at Wimpole were the best I've ever seen: 12m wide, with the full range of vegetation heights from mown grass to big, bosky hedge. With all the arable fields managed as organic.
      On SSSIs, apologies if my shorthand confused you, but absolutely no intention to blur these categories. In England approximately one third of our SSSIs are Favourable and two thirds are Unfavourable; and the vast majority of these are Unfavourable-Recovering. Not as good as we'd like, but we are not alone in having a big chunk of our SSSIs still in a long phase of Recovering. These assessments are done by Natural England, not us, and I don't think we'd want them reclassified unless things were actually changing on the ground.

      1. Good to hear from you Simon.

        I'm glad you made it to Hope Farm - this place has hosted visits from all sorts of organisations for a good decade, including many non-conservation organisations, so it's good that NT conservation staff have now made it there too. We'll can expect to see action for arable-dependent farmland birds across the NT arable estate in the next year or so presumably.

        It's great to hear that, like so many farms these days, Wimpole has impressive field margins. A big reason for failure to secure recovery of arable flora, farmland birds and other arable-associated biodiversity is that farmers have not taken up in-field arable options - they've all focused on the hedgerow and field margins options. That's what the NT has done on its tenanted farmland - it's managed to secure good hedgerow and margin management, but has largely ignored in-field options.

        I have a suggestion: how about you return in six months with another guest blog and set out your targets for NT arable land on the Isle of Wight (and, I suggest, across your entire UK arable land holdings), and how and on what timescale you intend to deliver these targets? I'm not sure what the precise targets should be but they could be expressed as, say:

        - '1ha of wild pollinator and suitable bird cover crops established per km sq of NT arable by summer 2018, and sustained thereafter'

        and, say:

        '5ha of low-input spring-drilled cereals, followed by over-winter stubble retained until March the following year, per km sq of NT arable by spring 2018, sustained thereafter'

        and maybe:

        'All suitable NT-owned arable land to have x density of skylark plots and lapwing/arable flora fallow plots in cereals by summer 2018, sustained thereafter'.

        They are some suggestions; all three options can be delivered, by NT, across its entire arable estate, within one growing season. I bet you're eager to get stuck in.

        If Mark allows the guest blog I've suggested, in which you report your progress, I'll offer a guest blog to report on how the birds are responding to your good work on the Isle of Wight.

      2. I think this distinction between 'unfavourable' and 'unfavourable recovering' is crucial; the former suggests you need to do something, the latter suggests you are already doing enough. Trend in condition should be evidence based - based on actual recovery in habitat extent and quality, not on introduction of often partial management measures. It is indeed a good thing then that the Trust want things to be 'better' as current standards are clearly not good enough. But rather than passing the blame to NE, it is also up to NGO to put pressure on statutory bodies to make sure that the standards are good enough! Come on people!

        As an aside there is some brilliant work going on by the NT Gower Team. Looking forward to seeing more positive works here and on your other land holdings!

  4. Bravo Simon, not 'wish washy' at all and can we have some more numbers please? Percentages of priority habitats owned/tenanted in high nature status' (and a definition of what that means) by region and nationally - e.g. NT's upland heaths/grasslands and western oak woods in the Lake District, and chalk grassland on the Isle of Wight are a big proportion of the total resource at regional scale? The same could be said about priority species - e.g. Mountain Ringlet and Glanville Fritillary. You could also say more about what's been achieved against targets/KPIs - e.g. condition status of chalk downlands on IoW has been transformed by scub clearance and appropriate grazing. And why not set aspirational habitat/species targets for individual landscapes? Don't be shy, you've got good evidence and could inform and engage more people about it.

    1. I largely agree with you, James, with a couple of 'Buts'! The Isle of Wight is a good example - large areas of chalk grassland in NT management and in very good heart. The NT is generally excellent at managing the best wildlife habitats under its ownership.

      But.... its undesignated, tenanted mixed farmland is largely indistinguishable from the intensively farmed (or previously 'improved') conventional farmland next door. NT is failing badly to get vast areas of tenanted mixed farmland into a good condition for nature. NT-owned tenanted farmland has nice hedgerows - that's easy, but the grasslands are not the subject of any meaningful habitat restoration; and the NT-owned arable areas are not the winter havens for farmland birds they could be. NT-owned arable on the Isle of Wight is as bereft of farmland birds as most arable farmland. The NT has created very little (any?) wild bird cover, very little (any?) weedy winter stubble etc etc. It's no surprise that the Isle of Wight has lost corn buntings from NT farmland - the NT has done nothing at all to help them over-winter. And yellowhammers have declined rapidly too, on NT owned tenanted farmland. All mixed farmland owned by the NT should be managed much as the RSPB manages Hope Farm - there's no excuse for NT failure on undesignated mixed farmland that it owns.

      And, the second But - why can't NT land be reserved for nature, havens where fox hunts are not allowed? Must every square inch of the countryside be open to the attention of packs of hounds? Why does NT allow the hunts to drive packs of hounds across designated chalk downland nature reserves where the public enjoy watching foxes?

      You mention Glanvilles - I might be wrong but I thought that most of these are in the Undercliff, not on NT land.

      1. Messi, you and I are in 'furious agreement' about your first 'But', which is more a reflection of historic landlord/tenant agreements than current practice? On your second 'But', Glanvilles occur at Compton Bay and Knowles Farm (both NT owned) on IoW - the latter includes part of the undercliff where you can see Red Squirrel, nesting Peregrine, Raven and Buzzard, foraging Gannet and Cormorant at sea and returning migrants on land, as well as enjoying the recovering chalk downland and cliff top grassland flora. What's not to like?

        1. Hi James

          NT were indeed historically heavily constrained by tenancy agreements but that's no longer the case and I see no evidence of, for example, active efforts to recover the biodiversity value of grasslands across NT tenanted farmland. These areas should now be subject to intensive habitat creation to expand species-rich grassland communities, not subject to lazy low-input management. Where's the NT's eagerness to massively expand habitats across its existing estate? As for their arable (and they have plenty of arable on the Isle of Wight and elsewhere), one can create wild bird cover patches and over-winter stubble rich in broadleaved flora within a growing season yet I see absolutely no evidence that NT to attempting to create anything of the sort anywhere on the island. It's pure laziness on their part. If, say, the RSPB had this arable they'd not think twice about creating over-wintering habitat for farmland birds.

          You win the argument about Glanvilles (though the island is chock-a-block with red squirrels, the gannets are offshore (not on NT land), and peregrines, ravens and buzzards nest in good numbers on and off NT land. NT do great things on their designated chalk grasslands though (and would be hammered by NE if they didn't, as most of it is SSSI / SAC so NT has to do the right thing).

          1. But can we all agree that the bread pudding served up at the Old Battery cafe is the best ever!?
            Ok, so they allow a bit of DGS here and there, a bit of fox hunting, a bit of lead shot for the dickie birds to ingest

            but they do have great bread pudding.

          2. Great points about the NT's wider Estate Messi.

            If we are to deliver the kinds of network we need to provide a home for biodiversity, these areas will need to contribute. Going a step further, what opportunities are there for NT to develop networks by tenanting or even buying key bits of land around their current Estate. At my local NT property of Benthall Hall, there would be a fantastic opportunity to reinforce and enhance what is already fairly low intensity management across quite a large area, if all tenants and landowners involved could be convinced to work together under some sort of landscape scale management plan. Without cooperation, all the individual chunks are at risk. But it needs leadership.

  5. As a member of the SNT and a long time visitor to Fountains Abbey [Free for Scottish members] with shooting all around. The area used have a flock of up to 100 Hawfinhes feeding on the Hornbeam, Yew and other tree species found there. The bird feeding station is an obstacle course for Grey Squirrels.

    The Trust needs Pine Marten and Goshawk which will expand the visitor attraction and remove the Greys and bring back the Reds. Local estates have been found not to favour birds of prey with numerous Red Kites and Buzzards going missing.

    My question to Simon Pryor is - Using satellite tagged Pine Marten and Goshawk could the trust not use these 2 species to remove the Grey Squirrel and make a visitor attraction at the same time? The satellite tags are needed to weed out the crime ridden estates close to their boundary and as a feasibility study will show these 2 species are worth more than any pheasant and Red leg shooting in the near area. The bonus being the return of large numbers of Hawfinches!

    1. Thanks John, several inspiring ideas!
      We are committed to removing greys where it can contribute to recolonisation by reds, and hugely appreciate the work our partners and volunteers have done. When I was last at Wallington I was dead impressed to hear that this vast estate is now 'free of greys', and that reds are spreading back in fast.
      We are v interested in the apparent interaction of pine martens with greys. And I've lived in hope that goshawks will have the same deterrent effect - tho greys are hard work as prey. I'll mention these ideas, including radio tracking, to the local team. Any actions that can help prevent illegal persecution of birds of prey are worth exploring. Being able to see three such iconic species at one place would. as you say, be a fantastic opportunity for visitors.

  6. I think there are some generally welcome words here, so let us hope that we see really practical outcomes.

    Is it time for me to consider re-joining the NT.? I left, immediately following the NT response about a referendum, (a survey anyway), when they ignored the result to ban fox and deer hunting on their estate. They did overturn this decision some time later, but I have perhaps wrongly been sceptical about their enthusiasm for the natural world over the large buildings, ever since.

  7. I expect most of us know NT land where these words need to be put into action, but will we see any improvement? It will be difficult to change local management and I can't see it happening across all properties. There is so much potential. Wildlife management of all NT land should be a leading priority. I look forward to seeing convincing case studies soon, otherwise I will also be leaving....

  8. I very much welcome the new NT policy and Symon’s guest blog, despite its rather pointed omission of any mention of Driven Grouse Shooting.

    However it is a new policy, or at best a long overdue return to one that has been side-lined for decades. NT has neglected the natural environment throughout my working life, certainly in comparison with the big houses it owns and manages. I have friends who work as property managers for NT so I know of what I speak. The neglect predates my career; back in the 60s NT was offered, for free, The Mens, a large and fabulous ancient woodland in West Sussex. but turned it down as not being “of sufficient natural beauty”. What they meant was that it wasn’t a big house. Sussex Naturalists’ Trust (as then was) then had to buy it to prevent it being felled and coniferised.

    Amongst conservation professionals NT has long had a reputation as the Land Agents’ NGO wing. This has rippled through from the historical emphasis on the countryside estate’s prime role being to produce income to fund the historic houses (NT was big into agricultural “improvement” along with the rest of the farming community), to the poverty wages paid to front line staff, to the toleration of the excesses of DGS.

    This is not to say that the NT hasn’t done some great work, and personally I rather like visiting its historic houses too, but the deeply embedded estate culture of the organisation has always put me off membership or active support.

    I very much hope that the new emphasis on the natural environment is genuine. I will be looking to see if it is indeed reflected across the organisation’s culture and is not just a side project seeking new audiences. Doing it right will mean some tough decisions, especially in the uplands where the “traditional” intensively managed and shot landscapes are often ecological deserts. I’ll want to see some significant renaturalisation of the hills, more native trees and often no sheep. I’ll want to see “sporting” leases for driven grouse shooting and intensive pheasant shooting not renewed as they come to the end of their terms, except perhaps for the odd trail-blazing exemplar site that is up for showcasing a different and genuinely sustainable economic model. And NT must be able to count on the vocal support of people like me if they’re up for that fight, so there’s a challenge for us too here.

    I’ll want to see an end to the poverty wages and presumed deference I associate with the worst of the landed gentry, particularly when it comes to the professional respect afforded to front line nature conservation staff.

    If NT gets this right, I might even re-join them after my long absence. So, Symon, all power to your elbow; changing course after so many decades won’t be easy, but I wish you every success.

  9. I like the enthusiasm for landscape scale restoration and habitat management. Please remember that muirburn has an entirely negative impact on upland scrub, blanket bog and wet heath. So the advice would be STOP IT.

  10. Actually... why not carryout an environmental impact assessment of your land management practices on all you properties. That should give you some confidence that you are getting the best value from your actions.

  11. Some sentiments but light on detail, although I recognise that this is a blog and not a report.

    Commenting specifically at the aspirations for the Trusts tenant farms, I do fear that the NT's targets may well be hamstrung by a combination of a current agri-environment model (CSS), which is wholly unfit for purpose when applied to upland and pastoral farms, and Brexit. Post 2018, I'm struggling to envisage anything other than a 2-3 year period of NE paralysis, followed by several years of torpor. I hope I'm wrong but I suspect that once the divorce costs have have been assessed, and the farming unions have been thrown a bone or two, the funding available for agri-environment in the lowlands will be derisory and very short-term.

    With the above in mind, I believe the NT will need to give serious thought to significant rent reduction on HNV land / farmland being managed specifically for nature. Whilst I know this happens on some NT tenant farms, I also know of some HNV farms which have had rent rises in the last few years. But more importantly serious consideration should be given to developing an added-value NT 'conservation grade' type brand, something that if successful could prove to be a sustainable, long-term, way of delivering HNV value farming across the NT's farmland estate. Not easy I know, but then neither are the alternatives.

  12. Nice to have a reply but I thought it was short on detail and long on "we are working with our stakeholder" type rhetoric. Again in what ways are the NT working to ensure their( our, members) land is not used for DGS, hunting with dogs and other formal wildlife killing systems developed for the "fun" of some? In what ways is their(our, members) farmland going to be different from agri business estates nearby? Surely NT members can have the expectation that this vast charity, using their(our the members) money would be at the forfront of nature conservation wheras it seems they are being pushed, reluctantly.

  13. Unanswered Question: Does the NT actually own the hunting rights on all its land? Is it able to stop it even if it wanted to?

    Just once I'd love a straight answer on that one. When the NT started snapping up a lot of stately piles and other stuff, it always had a focus on bricks and mortar, with gardens falling a little way behind, and estate rights always seemed like an afterthought. In their haste to acquire the bricks, mortars, and gardens, did the NT neglect things like Hunting, Shooting, and Fishing rights?

    1. I'd like to see this on a map - like the excellent NT Land Map which shows land acquisitions & dates - showing a) the areas where the NT owns shooting rights and b) where the NT owns land but not the shooting rights. I would then like to see the shooting rights they own extinguished each time a lease comes up, or at least not let to anyone. Also, to buy any shooting rights they don't own for their land if they are put up for sale. I'm sure the membership would "cough up" for that if the rights were then discontinued.

  14. NT allow illegal fox hunting and refuse to acknowledge that hunts are openly breaking the law on their land, even when the hunts are prosecuted. Probably something to do with Prince Charles and his love for killing things.

    Even when challenged and supplied with evidence they roll out the same tired explanation and their position on "field sports" which mentions licensed trail hunting which everyone knows is a cover for illegal hunting.

    To be honest they're a disgrace.

    1. If they do want to allow drag hunting and not have to have people either abusing then surely the easiest way to do it is to mandate that all drag hunt hounds (including terriers and "pets" accompanying the hunt) are muzzled. I have always said that an unmuzzled hound is an explicit admission by the hunt that they want a live kill. The NT should adopt this position, and sort the genuine drag hunters (who I also feel should also be in full makeup and cocktail dresses too 🙂 ) out from the loophole abusers and bad faith hunters.

      No muzzle, no hunt.

      1. These aren't drag hunts (also known as clean boot) which generally use bloodhounds and follow a fell runner or equally fit person, they are trail hunts (the distinction is very different).

        Trail hunts use (or are supposed to) an animal scent and also have terriermen on quads with terriers and spades (what are they for, trails don't go underground and need digging out). Muzzling hounds could also lead them to chase a terrified animal to exhaustion which may die later. It's not an option.

        The only way is to completely ban hunting from NT land. But they won't.

  15. Please inform us of your policy on driven grouse on NT land. Then & only then will we know whether or not your land management as improved.

  16. "High Nature Status" - does this include allowing those most psychopathic in our society to allow their dogs to take Foxes on NT land, to allow your Chairman's veto to allow Badger culling for obvious political reasons when against the will of the membership, for covering eyes and ears on uplands where raptors fear to fly?
    Come on Symon - if you want to talk the talk you need to be seen to be standing up for the nature rather than bowing to the desires of a minority. Only then would I consider reinstating my membership and support of NT.

  17. Clearly there are many of us that would re-join NT if they make the right calls, but many of us are sceptical that vested interests still count for more than the views and wishes of their members. They could make a stand on issues like hunting and DGS, but so far have steadfastly refused to do so and hidden behind weasel words. We are all willing to give them a chance, but likely to withhold financial support until we see some results.

  18. I have cancelled our joint membership over the hunting/DGS issue, it runs out in September so today I visited the Vyne where there is a bird hide and some wetland habitat, I was told by the birders there that the Trust had grubbed out a hedgerow in the past month and have been doing extensive tree work too, hardly surprising then that the bird count is declining, obviously they still have a long way to go in sympathetic habitat management, a very long way indeed.

  19. 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

  20. I am a member of the NT firstly because I enjoy getting out of the town to make the most of our heritage and countryside. When I accidentally discovered what so called 'Trail Hunting' is and saw for myself, I could not believe a charity declaring its intent to conserve our wild life, could be so easily using an interpretation of the ban to allow foxes and other animals to be hunted by hounds and killed. Not only do they allow it, but they are now blocking members from asking where it happens. At no point has anyone from the Trust debated why they allow this, instead adopting a hear no evil, see no evil approach. I hope members will not leave but will vote in the Autumn when a members' resolution goes forward asking the Trust to cease all permission for this outdated activity. It seems a pity this has to wait for members to push the Trust into the 21st Century, but better late than never. What are your thoughts on this?

  21. Two interesting comments in the final paragraph - 'being relevant to the nation' and 'Playing our Part'. Does the first mean that the Trust is relevant to the majority who oppose the destruction of/disruption to a large proportion of our wildlife for the benefit of a small proportion and those also in the minority who are prepared to kill the latter in exchange for a financial contribution to the Trust?
    In the case of the latter aren't the Trust already 'playing their part' in the continuation of a pastime which has officially been banned? If they wish to allow hunts to follow a trail they could insist that the trail laid must not be based on an animal scent, no terrier men be allowed to accompany the hunt, and as someone has already mentioned, the hounds be muzzled to avoid accidental deaths. Simply granting a licence without enforceable preconditions which are spot checked is not good enough.
    Are they not too 'playing their part' in the denudation of our uplands by allowing DGS and its associated gamekeeper controls which removes most predators of grouse and disturbs other species in the process (tramping/driving across moorland is hardly conducive to non-disturbance of nesting birds Dunlin and Curlew. And if the Trust can buy a Lakeland farm (minus the farmhouse) to reduce grazing pressure to aid restoration why is it so difficult to remove other species, specifically hounds, horses and humans with the intent to kill, from its lands?
    There is a Gaelic proverb 'Beul a labhras, ach gniomh a dhearbhas' which translates as ' the mouth speaks, but the deed proves'; similar to the English 'actions speak louder than words'. Roll on the deeds/actions that the words promise, if only! I can't help but feel that, in acquiring estates and land the Trust feels an obligation to continue the traditions associated with them including hunting and shooting.


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