The National Trust plans to help reverse the decline in wildlife on all land in its ownership

20Mar2017

The conservation charity, which was set up to protect places of natural beauty, hopes to create and restore “Priority Habitats”, areas identified by the government as threatened and in need of conservation support, on 10 per cent of its land – including an aim to create 25,000 hectares of new habitats by 2025.

Farming will remain vital to the Trust’s approach to countryside management and the charity will work in partnership with tenant farmers to see how they can help deliver nature-rich, productive, fertile landscapes which are good for wildlife and good for farming. Supporting sustainable farming will be crucial for the plans to succeed.

Many of the Trust’s 1,500 farm tenants are already farming in a way which benefits wildlife. The charity said that it wanted to discuss, listen and learn from them and other groups as it explores how nature-friendly measures could be introduced or enhanced across all of its farmed land.

The aim is that at least 50 per cent of farmland will be ‘nature-friendly’ by 2025, with protected hedgerows, field margins, ponds, woodland and other habitats allowing plants and animals to thrive.

Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape and Nature at the National Trust, said: “Our charity was founded to protect our natural as well as cultural heritage and we believe we should be playing an active role in reviving nature – by doing what we can on our own land.

“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. Despite the battering it’s taken over many decades, nature has an incredible ability to rejuvenate and revive if given the conditions to thrive.

“Birds such as the lapwing, cuckoo, and curlew are part of the fabric of our rural heritage. But they’ve disappeared from many parts of 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.”

The Trust will look to implement the “better, bigger, more and joined up” approach to nature called for in a Government commissioned review by Sir John Lawton.

Planting more hedgerows, which act as ‘wildlife corridors’ for birds and bats, establishing more lowland meadows and creating wetlands where appropriate could all help establish new habitats and will be considered in partnership with tenant farmers and other stakeholders.

The Trust’s approach could also involve:

  • Better: Adapting drainage systems, removing invasive non-native species, re-naturalising rivers and adapting farming practices to help improve the condition of habitats.
  • Bigger and More: Enlarging existing small areas of habitat, to make them more resilient. Sometimes this will mean more of the same, allowing a habitat to spread out. At other times it will be best to create a complementary habitat.
  • Joined up: Seeking ways to improve landscapes so that wildlife can move through them and make use of all the area rather than just the patches of habitat.

Peter Nixon said: “The future of farming and the environment are inextricably linked – they are reliant on the other to succeed. So, it’s not a case of supporting one at the expense of the other. We want both to thrive.

“We need the support of our farmers and want to help them in their businesses and combine our skills and expertise to deliver a healthier, more beautiful environment. That’s why we will work with them and explore how we make improvements together.”

The Trust’s new commitments could play an important role in helping deliver the Government’s own ambitions to improve the natural environment.

Plans to make space for nature are expected to help meet 12.5 per cent of Defra’s overall national target to create 200,000 hectares of new Priority Habitats by 2020.

George Dunn, Chief Executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said: “I commend the National Trust for its determination to work positively with its tenant farmers to achieve greater nature conservation objectives from its land. Accepting that it has much to learn from working in partnership with its tenants who are already farming to high environmental standards, the National Trust must now put in place the practical arrangements to deliver this. Farm tenants will be heartened by the National Trust’s clearly expressed position that good environmental management in the countryside cannot be divorced from the achievement of productive and sustainable farming.”

The National Trust