The National Trust outlines ambition to help restore Britain’s natural heritage

Large Blue Butterfly ©National Trust Images. Matthew Oates

The National Trust today outlined ambitious plans to help reverse the decline in wildlife on all land in its ownership – including an aim to create 25,000 hectares (at least 5000 in the South West) of new habitats by 2025.

As one of the country’s largest landowners, the Trust wants to play its part in addressing the dramatic slump in British species and improve soil quality and water quality in the countryside. An in-depth study of UK species last year found 56 per cent were in decline.

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.

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 1500 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 Conservation of the National Trust, said: “Our charity was founded to protect our natural heritage and we believe we should be playing an active role in reviving it – 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 cuckoo, lapwing and curlew are part of the fabric of our rural heritage. But they’ve virtually disappeared from 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.”

Alex Raeder, Natural Environment Lead for the National Trust in the South West said: ‘25000 hectares equates to about 10% of the Trusts national landholding. In the South West we have an ambition to create at least 5000 hectares of new habitat by 2025 which we believe will have a major impact on the environment and wildlife of the South West.

‘We envisage that a great deal of this new habitat will be created, in consultation with our farm tenants and other stakeholders, on the coastline of the region. This represents the continuation of work that we have undertaken for many years to restore habitats for people and wildlife on the Coast but we now need to do this with a renewed urgency given the state of the nation’s wildlife.

‘In addition to our work on the coast there are some fantastic opportunities and projects already underway inland, for example the restoration of species rich chalk grasslands around Stonehenge and our partnership with the Woodland Trust in the Teign Valley of Dartmoor National Park to restore native broadleaved trees in extensive areas of conifer woodland on sites that were once ancient Oak woodland.’

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.

The Trust has outlined plans to help support farmers post-Brexit, when £3bn of EU subsidies for the industry will end, and the charity said tenant farmers would continue to be essential partners in helping to restore the health of the natural environment.

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 support them in their businesses and combine our   skills, expertise and passion 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.

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