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