The National Trust today advertises for a shooting tenant for its land in the Dark Peak from which its current tenant, Mark Osborne, will soon be exiting. This represents about 40% of the NT landholding in the High Peak and so is a substantial decision over the direction of land management on NT land.
This can only be seen as a slap in the face for the c5000 people, many of them local to the Peak District, and many of them NT members, who signed a petition asking their organisation not to renew the shooting tenancy in their local National Park. Last week the NT postponed at the last moment a scheduled meeting for the campaigners to meet senior NT staff. At the time I took a generous view of that move, given that I usually prefer cock-up to conspiracy as an explanation, but I may have to revisit that charitable view. Obviously NT knew that they were posting this advert on their own website and now a meeting to listen carefully to the views of their membership and local people seems rather pointless as the decision has been made. The online petition is still open!
The National Trust was keen to tell me that it remains committed to its conservation-led vision for the High Peak (see Inglorious pp161-3 for an account and my praise for it) but this move, to seek a shooting tenant, is puzzling in that regard as no-one could argue that grouse shooting is necessary to the delivery of the NT’s vision for wildlife which majors on birds of prey, Red Grouse and Mountain Hare (see recent blog on Raptor Persecution UK of continuing Mountain Hare persecution in Peak District).
There are three main possibilities to my mind lying behind the NT’s decision, which they knew would come under the spotlight, and I’ll go through them today. But the NT has been good, better than any other organisation I think, at responding on this blog to criticisms made of it and I would welcome a guest blog from them on this subject. It would be good to receive such a blog by Thursday evening so that it could appear here before groups of people assemble at Hen Harrier Day events across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and mutter together about the National Trust’s position.
- the most charitable explanation: NT don’t want a shooting tenant but feel they have to go through the pretence of looking for one before announcing that they have failed – thus putting the blame firmly in the lap of recalcitrant and obdurate grouse shooters.
- the middle way: NT want to do what none of the 140+ English grouse moors has achieved so far (to my knowledge), and demonstrate that economically viable grouse shooting and birds of prey, Mountain Hares and a range of other species can co-exist. They are seriously looking for a compromise position that cannot yet be seen on the ground anywhere in the UK that I know. Maybe, they are looking for a tenant who will carry out a few days of walked up shooting. Who knows – NT hasn’t said?
- the least charitable explanation: the NT, packed to the gunwales with land agents and with strong links to large landowners, really is in thrall to the grouse shooting gentry and cannot bring itself into the twentieth, let alone the twenty-first, century as an ambitious innovative land managing organisation.
This is where I should repeat my offer to NT of a guest blog here this week to state their case – particularly as in their last guest blog here they avoided the subject very pointedly.
Now, I understand that it would be difficult, nay impossible, for NT to say that they are following Option 1 as that would rather blow their cover! However, if Option 2 is their preferred route then there is absolutely no reason for them not to be clear about it now. Some will praise them and the rest of us can decide whether to disinvest from our expensive NT memberships. Many will believe Option 3 whatever the NT says – I wouldn’t count myself in that number but it is a thought that is never too far away in my mind. Over to you, NT.