Biodiversity a priority on the National Trust's 1,000 hectare shopping list in the East
PUBLISHED: 09:29 09 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:29 09 July 2018
© Justin Minns
The National Trust is on a mission to find and purchase land to help wildlife. Ross Bentley met East of England regional director Paul Forecast to discover more about these ambitious plans.
Renowned for being Britain’s most popular membership organisation, the National Trust owns and manages some of the region’s most precious landscapes and locations from Wicken Fen and Dunwich Heath to Sutton Hoo and Orford Ness.
But while this is an impressive collection by any measure, the Trust is not resting on its laurels and has plans to add to its estate in the East and purchase more land, solely for the purposes of creating habitats for wildlife.
According to its East of England regional director, Paul Forecast, the Trust’s aim is to take on an additional 1,000 hectares in the region by 2025 - a 10% uplift in the area of land already managed by the organisation in the East. This regional target forms part of the Trust’s national ambition to purchase an impressive 25,000 hectares for nature across the country.
This latest initiative is to a certain extent a return to the original ideals of the Trust, which started out managing natural environments at the turn of the 20th century before it became better known for looking after stately homes. For example, Wicken Fen, in Cambridgeshire, is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve - the first two acres purchased in 1899 for £10.
“We’ve probably been better known for our mansion houses but we have always been active in nature conservation,” said Mr Forecast.
“We did our new strategy three or four years ago and the then director general of the National Trust, Helen Ghosh, asked the question: ‘What is the most important thing that the National Trust could be doing in the 21st century?’ and the conclusion was protecting nature.
“We’ve done a brilliant job in protecting mansion houses and beautiful landscapes but biodiversity is in decline and that’s where we will be focussing our efforts.”
On the Trust’s shopping list in the East is heathland, fen habitats, coastal stretches that can be converted into new salt marshland and ancient woodland. Some of this new land will be adjoining to existing National Trust properties.
While exact details are confidential at this point, Forecast says the Trust has already entered into negotiations over some areas and that it is working with both private owners and public authorities.
“One of the things I like about the National Trust is that we have the resources and the get up and go to get this stuff done,” said Forecast.
“This is not a wish list, it’s not predicated on finding funding elsewhere, it’s predicated on the fact we have fantastic members who support our work and that gives us the opportunity to do that.”
Forecast says, the Trust’s current plan comes at a time when the nation as a whole is facing “a choice about what we want to do for nature”.
While the Government’s 25-year plan for the environment looms large, he also points to John Lawton’s influential review of the UK’s wildlife sites which was published in 2010.
“We’ve seen declines in biodiversity and the Lawton report was very clear: we need bigger areas of management, they need to be better managed and more joined up,” continued Forecast.
“You can walk all the way from Southwold to Ipswich and never leave either designated land or land being managed for nature. You have multiple people managing – Natural England, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB, National Trust – that’s a really good example of what Lawton was looking for. It’s big in terms of its extent; it’s joined-up with all of these organisations working together; and there’s a lot resources available to ensure the habitats are managed in a way to maximise the number of species that are there.
“It’s no coincidence that the Eastern region is one of the most biodiverse places in the UK in terms of the variety - so, we have some examples of where it works really well, and we just need to replicate that model and do it in more places – it’s a very simple choice.”
Key to this, he says, is working with farmers to find a system that is profitable and sustainable for them and wildlife.
In recent months, the Trust has employed an advisor to work with its tenant farmers to help them adopt more wildlife friendly practices and advise them on access to grants.
Forecast added: “Most of the farmers I know care passionately about the land and wildlife - and if you can square the circle of making sufficient profit, doing what they are good at, which is producing food, and also have the benefit of cleaner soil and water for wildlife - generally speaking, what’s not to like?”