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National Trust promises to reverse wildlife declines

Monday 20 March 2017

The National Trust today has set its sights on reversing the declines in habitats and biodiversity in Britain, with a pledge to create 25,000 hectares of new habitats by 2025.

The Trust made headlines last year when, soon after the Brexit vote was returned in June’s election, Director General Dame Helen Ghosh called for area-based farm payments to be scrapped in favour of a new agriculture policy in which payments would be dependent on farmers working to restore habitats and support biodiversity. The Trust is one of the UK’s largest landowners, and benefits to the tune of millions of pounds from farm subsidy payments and environmental stewardship funding (totalling £11m in 2015).

The latest State of Nature report, published in September last year, revealed that 56% of UK species are in decline, with one in ten threatened with extinction from these shores.

Outlining its plan on Monday, the conservation charity promised 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. The Trust promised that it will work in partnership with its 1,500 tenant farmers to achieve its goals, noting that “Supporting sustainable farming will be crucial for the plans to succeed.”

The charity said that it wants to discuss, listen and learn from farm tenants and others as it explores how nature-friendly measures could be introduced or enhanced across all of its farmed land. Its target is for half of its 250,000 ha of land to be farmed in a ‘nature-friendly’ way by 2025, with protected hedgerows, field margins, ponds, woodland and other habitats allowing plants and animals to thrive.

Specific measures the charity promises to look into include hedge planting, to provide wildlife corridors for birds, bats and small mammals, establishing more lowland meadows and creating wetlands. It will also look at ‘re-naturalising’ rivers, adapting farming practices to benefit habitats, and looking to join up wildlife habitats, finding 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 that currently exist.

Commenting on Monday, Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape and Nature at the National Trust, said, “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.”

Nixon continued, “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.”

Also commenting, George Dunn, Chief Executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said, “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.”

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