The National Trust and our natural world

Welsh Black cow and calf amongst the cottongrass on Hafod Y Llan farm
Published : 23 Feb 2016

Time spent surrounded by nature is time well spent but too often over the last 70 years, farming practices have put short-term production ahead of the long-term health of the land and the natural environment.

Wildlife has disappeared from our fields and hedgerows, over-worked soils wash out to rivers. A changing climate will bring even greater challenges.

Our country needs to find a new way to manage land and reward farmers and land owners to be good stewards of the land, passing it on in good condition for future generations.

Recognising the need for action and the limits of previous approaches, we will first focus on the land the National Trust owns. We can make changes more quickly for the land that is directly managed by the Trust. For National Trust land that is let to tenants, we will work with our farmers.

Sometimes, often in upland areas, this will mean taking land out of primary agricultural production because it is more important for that land to hold or slow down water to prevent flooding, to retain carbon in peatlands that are being eroded from grazing or because it offers and opportunity to experience the wild. We will be looking at how 'ecosystem services' like these can provide a financial return.

Farming, particularly with extensive livestock, will still be essential for grazed habitat management in these areas, but levels of production should be limited to align with these land uses.

Where we manage upland farms directly we take this approach, for example halving the number of sheep and introducing Welsh Black Cattle has been deliberate to improve nature conservation. Intense ecological surveying has reported significant habitat improvements.

In other places making sure that the right crops are grown, changing the intensity of grazing patterns or moving away from intensive dairy farming can make improvements.

We've formed a close relationship with the Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB to work together more. We will also work with other landowners and seek support to extend our partnership work with landowners and communities.

We want to make sure we're doing what we can to make the countryside accessible and to inspire people young and old to experience its beauty and understand how its history shapes what we see now.

It is estimated that the damage that is being done to the soil and to natural systems means the UK only has 100 harvests left. It's time for us together to make a start to restore the health of our country's land - not just for the sake of nature, but for the sake of our own future.