I am lucky enough to have enjoyed a long and close connection with the National Trust for over 30 years. Back in the early 90s I was working alongside Sherborne and Coleshill Estates, helping to conceive and implement major river and wetland restoration projects in the upper Thames catchment, and have enjoyed working alongside the National Trust on various sites and projects ever since. It truly is a world-class environmental charity that is the envy of the world and one that I admire hugely.
It is also Britain’s largest charity, and one of the largest landowners in the country. It owns over 612,000 acres of land and 575 miles of coastline throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, double the land ownership of RSPB.
Rewilding Britain advocates for the large-scale restoration of nature; and 600,000+ acres is certainly large scale. If the National Trust were to engage in active rewilding on just half of its land, the potential for nature recovery would be huge. Even just to fully embrace the term ‘rewilding’ at its sites where rewilding is taking place would be a great support to the rewilding movement. The National Trust remains a beloved institution, and membership is close to a record high – 5.6 million, according to the latest figures. For it to loudly and proudly engage in and support rewilding would educate, inform and inspire huge numbers of people, which would, in turn, lead to more rewilding.
The threat of Restore Trust
However, as this year’s AGM approaches, one of the biggest current threats to the National Trust and its nature restoration efforts has been rearing its head. Yet again, the right-wing group Restore Trust is embarking on a campaign to put an end to what it calls the National Trust’s ‘woke agenda’, by attempting to persuade members to elect its endorsed candidates to the National Trust’s governing council.
Restore Trust believes that the National Trust is increasingly betraying its fundamental objectives by progressively addressing historical links to the slave trade, its approach to gay and transgender rights and rewilding (dismissed by candidate Andrew Gimson as “modish nonsense” in his candidate statement). It claims that its candidates will “change the trust for the better — shifting the focus …back to looking after Britain’s beautiful historic buildings.”
“The fact is that Britain’s nature will never thrive without action, without actively rewilding and restoring large swathes of degraded habitats.”
This is a fundamental misunderstanding (or perhaps disregard) of the National Trust’s primary objectives, and how they very much align with the current issues of the climate and biodiversity crises. Clearly stated on the National Trust’s website, beneath the heading ‘what we stand for’, reads: “We protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive.” Not just survive, not just remain in stasis in the perilous condition nature is currently in – but thrive. The fact is that Britain’s nature will never thrive without action, without actively rewilding and restoring large swathes of degraded habitats.
Rewilding at the National Trust
The National Trust is already doing some brilliant rewilding work, an amazing start on what could be a transformative rewilding journey for the organisation. Wicken Fen near Cambridge is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve and one of Europe’s most important wetlands. The National Trust is working to extend the nature reserve by restoring arable land to fenland habitat, an amazing rewilding effort that will allow natural processes to re-establish and help restore the fragmented ecosystem.
The Eastern Moors partnership in the Peak District, a joint venture between the National Trust and the RSPB, kick-started rewilding by reducing (not eliminating) grazing pressure on the moors. The subsequent emerging natural regeneration of woodland has been supplemented with additional tree planting and peat bog restoration works to restore the diversity of species and natural hydrology of the area.
“What we want to see – what we need to see – is the National Trust being bigger and bolder with its vision of helping nature thrive once again.”
What we want to see – what we need to see – is the expansion and development of rewilding projects such as these; for the National Trust to be bigger and bolder with its vision of helping nature thrive once again. Much of the huge amount of land owned by the National Trust is in National Parks and other protected landscapes, areas that have some of the highest potential in helping achieve the UK government’s targets of protecting 30% of Britain’s land and seas for nature by 2030. An alarming lack of progress since this pledge was made in September 2020 means we are currently well on track to miss these targets completely which will place the future of our wildlife, nature and climate in further jeopardy.
If Restore Trust were to gain significant power, the potential the National Trust could, and should, have in accelerating our progress towards 30 by 30 would be eliminated. If you are a member of the National Trust, we implore you to vote in support of nature restoration, rewilding and a future of thriving nature and people by using your vote against the Restore Trust candidates — and encouraging your friends and family to do the same. You have the power to enact real, positive change and create a better future for all of us – please use it.
If you are a National Trust member, you can vote in the council elections on the National Trust website before 11.59pm on 3 November 2023.
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