This report explains how The Wildlife Trusts used the generous £13,000 of funding we received from Vp Plc to support our work to influence land managers to bring about nature’s recovery in the some 70% of the country that is dedicated to agriculture.
How The Wildlife Trusts used with this year’s Vp funding
We used the Vp funding to pay for 12 Wildlife Trust Land Management Advisors to attend the BASIS Certificate in Sustainable Land Management course. In 2024, Vp plans to fund a further 12 advisors on the same training course.
We chose the training provider that had -in our estimation – the best reputation- the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) Allerton Project.
The training consisted of four days in person at the Allerton Project in Leicestershire on 10-11th October and 18-19th October and then online exams on 26-27th October.
There is such a demand for this training among Wildlife Trust land advisors, that when advertised on our intranet, we filled the places in less than a day, and have a reserve list of ten people who missed out, but who would like to attend any future courses that we can fund.
Feedback from colleagues attending the course was positive. For instance, our colleague Helen from The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire said:
“ I think I can say on behalf of the group that we have thoroughly enjoyed the course and have got lots out of it, all of which will be useful in our work, so we are very grateful to be given the opportunity to attend.”
Why Did Vp plc Choose to Fund This Project?
The impact of farming
Farming in the post-war period was transformed by a national imperative to improve self-sufficiency in staple crops and a determination to reduce reliance on imported foods that proved to be so vulnerable in time of conflict. This drive for agricultural efficiency and increased productivity, however, was accompanied by dramatic declines in wildlife. The catastrophic declines in habitats, species and environmental quality that resulted are well documented and particularly starkly summarised in the UK National Ecosystem Assessment.
Ongoing declines are chronicled by the subsequent State of Nature reports published by a collaboration of conservation and research organisations including The Wildlife Trusts.
Intensive agriculture has not only drastically reduced biodiversity on farms, but its effects are felt even in nature rich areas beyond the farm’s gate. For example, nitrates and phosphates leaching from farmland have badly damaged water courses and affected many sites designated for nature conservation.
The opportunity to turn things around
About 71% of the UK’s land is farmed. With the right combination of regenerative agriculture and land being set aside for nature (such as for rewilding), we can halt and reverse many of the declines in wildlife that we have seen since the second world war. Many farmers are willing to change their practices to help nature recover, not least in a world where existing business models are failing, soils are depleting, pollinators are vanishing, and where agricultural payment schemes are shifting towards payment for “public goods” such as nature recovery.
Wildlife Trust expertise in land management for nature’s recovery
The Wildlife Trusts manage a plethora of habitat types from mountain tops to the sea in uplands and lowlands, in towns and countryside. Most of the sites cared for are designated as of the highest importance for nature and together form one of the most impressive collections of wildlife sites in the UK. Alongside this responsibility Trusts have developed an incomparable expertise in wildlife management and nature conservation across the whole range of habitats and species, largely founded on the practical management needs of the places in their care. The devolved nature of the Trusts has enabled them to develop a deep knowledge and understanding of nature at a local level and the things that are most highly valued in different landscape types.
This combination of deep expertise and local understanding covering all quarters of the UK is a major strength and is not replicated in any other organisation.
Operating beyond our nature reserves
There is a wide understanding amongst Wildlife Trusts that only so much can be achieved within the boundaries of existing nature reserves. We know that if we want to scale up the benefits we can generate for wildlife, we will need to influence how land is manged in the wider countryside, beyond the boundaries of our own reserves.
Our current land management advice system
Many Trusts, therefore, operate some form of land management advisory service for private landowners. In some places this is limited to advice on habitat creation and management in farmed environments, and in others it extends to how farming practices can be changed to reduce adverse environmental impacts or positively enhance wildlife interest.
In 2018/19 we carried out an internal survey of the land management advice offered across all Trusts, which gives a valuable snapshot of the nature and scale of the services provided at that time. At that time there were 276 full time equivalent advisers on the staff across all Trusts, ranging from three to 15 per Trust.
Wildlife Trusts provide a huge amount of advice to land managers on a range of environmental issues – from reintroducing or supporting species and rewilding to facilitating groups of farmers to work together under Countryside Stewardship’s Facilitation Fund. Trusts are involved in some flagship land advice partnerships including the Jordans Farm Partnership, Southwest Water’s Upstream Thinking and Severn Trent Water’s STEPS.
Working at landscape scale
Working at a landscape scale is in many cases essential in order to address issues relating to particular habitats or species such as water vole projects, or addressing water quality issues, which need a catchment scale approach.
A further benefit of working across whole landscapes included the opportunity to develop working partnerships with other landowners and like-minded advice providers to engender wider support for land management beneficial to nature and to build wider communities of interest in the plight of wildlife and the measures needed to reverse the worrying declines. There is also the opportunity to take advantage of emerging government support for landscape scale conservation measures, which Trusts could be well placed to encourage and facilitate.
Some of the greatest future gains for nature will be made where new habitats are created across big areas that currently support limited wildlife. Ambitious projects like the Great Fen in Cambridgeshire is connecting isolated habitat areas across intensely managed farmland through newly created habitat
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust works with a range of farmers and landowners on several projects to help nature recover.
Kent Wildlife Trust’s works with farm clusters to achieve landscape scale change.
The current skillset…
The main specialist skills held by Wildlife Trust land management advisers include rural land management, ecology and conservation, and livestock, with a smaller proportion of advisers having specialist skills in agriculture, hydrology, agronomy or horticulture. Most Trusts have plans to expand their involvement in land management advice over the next 5-10 years with the greatest opportunities being presented by new environmental land management (“ELM”) schemes, potential new sources of funding and future, post-Common Agricultural Policy (“CAP”) support for land management.
..and how we might improve it
Trusts very much want to increase their land management advisors’ knowledge of agriculture, farm business management and agronomy, including via qualifications such as BASIS. Our advisors already have great ecological knowledge. Adding this business-related knowledge will significantly increase the credibiity and effectiveness of our advisors’ work.
Author: Dan Pescod