Summary of National Trust evidence on NPPF to DCLG Select Committee

In many places, the NPPF is not yet leading to plan-led development. Only 54% of Local Planning Authorities have a Local Plan, and the Local Plan adoption rate has slowed since the new Planning Framework was adopted.

Planning balances the interests of the nation as a community with those of individuals – and Local Plans should be at the heart of the planning system. Without a Local Plan, or with an out of date plan, it seems that communities are at risk from speculative development mainly due the five year land supply rules.

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National Trust response to Efra Committee’s winter flood report

We’re disappointed that this report overlooks the valuable contribution that natural processes can make to reducing flood risk.

We know from this experience that policy and funding should work with natural forces to slow water down, and use land upstream as a sponge to retain water. As we pointed out to the Committee, managing water ‘from source to sea’ in this way helps to avoid flood risks to communities downstream, in a cost effective way. Maintenance of flood defences and watercourses will always be a part of the solution, but we regret that the Committee has not considered the fuller picture of how flood risk for rural communities can be managed effectively.

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National Trust responds to Government initiatives to help build more new homes on brownfield land

Ingrid Samuel, National Trust historic environment director, said:

“We have called for state investment to get difficult brownfield sites ready for development, and so we welcome moves in this direction from Government – and the clear recognition from the Chancellor of the need to protect valued countryside. There are many sites in urban areas, close to existing jobs and transport links which communities would like to develop ahead of countryside sites though their Local Plans, but developers currently deem them unviable due to additional costs.

“As with any development, care should be taken to ensure new homes on brownfield land respect local heritage and biodiversity, are well designed, with access to green space and good transport links, and that affordability needs are considered. The detail of any proposed changes will need to make sure that local communities, through the planning process, can ensure these needs are properly considered.”

Putting people at the heart of planning – National Trust reaction to Farrell Review

See below for the reaction from the National Trust to the report published today by Sir Terry Farrell (you can read the full report via http://www.farrellreview.co.uk/download):

Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director, said: “Sir Terry’s report is very compelling. We hope it will lead to a new recognition of the importance of beauty and the spirit of a place in new developments, and ensure that fewer inappropriate schemes get the go-ahead.

“It is crucial that, when we are planning new housing and other buildings in a community, we start from an understanding of what people love and value about that place, and ensure any new development is sympathetic to the local context it sits in.

“We hope that many of the Review’s practical solutions will be taken forward by Government, including his call for proactive planning for design, reducing VAT on retrofitting, and appointing design experts at central and local level.”

National Trust – concerns remain around the Lobbying Bill

Yesterday, MPs debated the Lobbying Bill. Although it passed second reading, there were a good number of Parliamentarians who voiced their concerns about Part II of the Bill. Below we note the National Trust’s concerns and our desire for a thorough rethink of Part II of the Bill as it passes through the next stages in Parliament.

The National Trust supports greater transparency but we believe significant changes are needed to achieve an approach which improves transparency and accountability without undermining the positive role that charities play in enabling informed public policy debate. The Government has given verbal reassurances but these need to be backed by material changes if they are to remove uncertainty.

The National Trust has a long pedigree of involvement in public policy. Earlier in our history we worked in partnership with others in calling for the creation of National Parks. This resulted in a the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, a piece of legislation that over the years has protected and promoted access to many of the nation’s most loved landscapes. In the 1930s we promoted changes to allow the acceptance of historic assets in lieu of inheritance tax, which enabled the transfer into public ownership of many places of historic interest and architectural beauty for the enduring enjoyment of all.

More recently the National Trust’s Planning for People petition, calling on the government to think again on their reforms of the planning system, garnered more than 200,000 signatures from concerned members of the public. We also supported calls for a rethink on the future of the public forest estate; challenged the government to be braver in designating Marine Conservation Zones; have been involved in recent judicial reviews around the impacts of planning proposals which we believe have unacceptable detrimental impacts for places in our care; and have been working with others within and beyond the charity sector in promoting more opportunities for children to enjoy the benefits of playing outdoors and in nature.

We do all of the above in pursuit of our duty, described under our various Acts of Parliament, for promoting the permanent preservation of places of natural beauty and historic interest, and want to be confident that we are able to continue to do so.

Analysis by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, backed by legal opinion, shows that the Bill’s imprecision creates too many hostages to fortune. The Electoral Commission, which will have greater regulatory responsibilities under the new legislation, has also openly stated concern about how it will be wide open to interpretation and could impact the work of charities.

This is why we are backing calls by the NCVO for a careful rethink on Part II of the Bill.

A spokesman said: “Whilst we entirely support the intent of greater transparency, the Bill before Parliament is perplexing because it is entirely unclear in defining what is, and what is not, political lobbying.

“Significant changes are needed to ensure that we can be confident in a system which promotes transparency without undermining the positive role that organisations like the National Trust play.

“Charities play an important role in engaging citizens and politicians in informed policy debate around the charitable cause for which they stand. The Government has given verbal reassurances that this wont be undermined, but these reassurances need to be backed by material changes if they are to remove uncertainty from the Bill.”

National Trust welcomes Government decision to retain Environment Agency and Natural England

The National Trust welcomes the Government’s decision to retain the Environment Agency and Natural England as two distinct bodies under an approach that seeks closer working and collaboration between the two.

Avoiding further structural disruptions is welcome at a time when there is so much that needs to be achieved to improve the state of our natural environment.

Yesterday’s additional cuts to Defra’s budgets means that the job for these agencies is all the more challenging – coming at a time when a new CAP deal has just been reached – creating new challenges for our farmed environment – and an array of infrastructure plans and projects are being announced.

Dr Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director for the National Trust said: “We believe that the Government should now strongly recommit to the broad agenda it backed in the publication of the Natural Environment White Paper two years ago, by ensuring that the proposed Environment Agency and Natural England joint delivery plan is grounded in this. We think this should also connect in the management of the public forest estate.

“By working together, we believe that Defra’s agencies can and must create a stronger vision for the future of the nation’s vital environmental infrastructure, from the centre of our cities to the seas around our shores.”

Weekly Witter: Where are Britain’s Bees?

A Buzzless Spring…

Hindsight is useless. Foresight is what’s needed, but it is far easier to prove something retrospectively.  Conservation and technological science need to be forward looking, and to prime future actions.  Furthermore, there’s a jumping off point where science has to prime belief.  That jumping off point is often hard to determine: sometimes we have to jump before we have full scientific certainty, which is where belief becomes important.

“I know that much is wrong with our bees, and that the situation is steadily worsening.”

Much has been said and written about neonicotinoids (‘neonics’) and the plight of bees, hived and wild.  I’d love to say that I fully understand it all, but I don’t; some of the science is beyond me, and some of it seems woolly. Good science is often partial, and there is much inadequate science around (often acting as a stepping stone towards good science).  Yet as an entomologist who has been interested in our native bees for over thirty years and as someone who has been involved in bee keeping on and off since childhood, I know that much is wrong with our bees, and that the situation is steadily worsening.  If there was a single cause we would in theory have got to the bottom of it by now, so I suspect a cocktail, a nasty cocktail.

My wife and I gave up bee keeping circa 2000 when we finally had to accept that we couldn’t keep them in the arable landscape in which we live.  It was unfair on the bees; they kept dying – and not just because of poor weather or Varroa mites, or even inadequate husbandry.  Moreover, we became increasingly aware that bees kept by friends in more suburban environments were faring considerably better.  Much of what our own bees gathered was Oil Seed Rape (OSR), which in my opinion makes revolting honey (and not simply because it sets rock hard).  Since then our local farms have increased their OSR acreage considerably.

“What all parties seem agreed upon is that seriously good research is required urgently – but good science cannot be hurried.”

In 2012 some 490,000ha of OSR (76 per cent of the UK crop) were treated with ‘neonics’, along with some 600,000ha (30 per cent) of wheat (Advisory Committee on Pesticides Data, 2012).  A formal review by the European Foods Standards Agency reported in January that ‘neonics’ pose an unacceptably high risk to bees, and that the industry-sponsored evidential data upon which regulatory agencies have relied may be flawed.  Their review concluded that an acute risk to honey bees is posed by dust drift from the seed treatments used in maize, OSR and cereals, and that a similar high risk is posed by residues in nectar and/or pollen.  In response the European Commission is implementing a temporary ban on some neonicotinoids. This is effectively an evocation of the Precautionary Principle of the Rio Declaration, which states: ‘Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.’

honey_bee North Eastern Photography

Will honey bees soon be a thing of the past?

Whether this will actually help bees remains to be seen.  Crops sown this autumn will not be affected by the moratorium, and two years is a pathetically small window of opportunity – especially as ‘neonics’ can persist in some soils for up to four years.  Furthermore, it is unwise to assume that the alternatives to ‘neonics’ are less damaging, so we urgently need to see guidance provided to farmers and gardeners on practices to use instead.  What all parties seem agreed upon is that seriously good research is required urgently – but good science cannot be hurried.  Meanwhile in Wales there is perhaps some hope in the production of a Pollinator Action Plan (open for consultation until June 4th) which could be usefully extended and developed on a UK-wide basis as our bees don’t respect borders.

Why we are growing all this Oil Seed Rape in the first place is a question only naïve people like me ask…

  • Matthew Oates has worked for the National Trust for over 20 years.  Although passionate about butterflies he is very much an all-round naturalist and is effectively the Trust’s resident naturalist. He works closely with the Trust’s network of ecologists and naturalist rangers throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular weekly mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about the news and what’s on their minds at the moment.

A curate’s egg of a curriculum?

There’s been a fair amount of coverage and comment recently on the Government’s consultation on the National Curriculum. Andy Beer, the National Trust’s Head of Visitor Experience and Learning, provides an overview of the questions we are asking ourselves as we draw up the National Trust’s response to the Government’s proposals:

The proposed new National Curriculum is an interesting reminder of the diverse interests of the National Trust. Just about every subject area touches on some aspect of our work. Coastal change, nature education, fostering a love of history, climate change, citizenship and identity are all things that bear closely upon our purposes as a charity.

So, how do we respond? Firstly, that it’s a bit of a curate’s egg. There are some good things, but also some areas that cause us, and others, some concern. We are compiling a response by talking to our staff, volunteers and partners, but in doing so here are some of the questions that we are asking ourselves:

The consultation document asks us whether we agree that “we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content of the programmes of study” and this seems an entirely laudable aim. However, if that is the ambition then why does the history curriculum not look like the geography curriculum? The latter is a broad framework, which appears to have been well received, whereas the former appears a prescriptive list of tasks, perhaps best accompanied by an atlas shaded in pink.

This leads us to a second question in relation to a history curriculum, for which the answer is self evident: “can we engender an understanding of chronology (a good thing) without teaching things in rigid chronological order?” The delight felt by the National Trust’s archaeologists that prehistory is now included in the curriculum has been somewhat tempered by the understanding that it appears to only figure between the ages of 5 and 5 and half. I sense we are underestimating the ability of children to organise information and, in doing so, might we squander the chance to fire them up about history?

Nature education is also an area we feel passionate about. The science curriculum places strong emphasis on the importance of first hand experience (something we would strongly support) and is also littered with the phrase “pupils should use their local environment throughout the year” and an increased emphasis on some basic skills of taxonomy potentially providing opportunities for learning about plants and animals. Is that sufficient?

Climate change is another thematic area of study that is not explicitly mentioned. Interestingly this forms part of a wider pattern of a move away from cross disciplinary areas of study. The curriculum looks as though it is split into separate silos, which is unhelpful given that most of the problems these children will face when mature cut across subject boundaries. That said, it will be very hard to teach “weather and climate” and the interaction of “human and physical processes on landscapes” without reference to it. However, it is a curious inconsistency that students will be required to know about the Heptarchy (I had to look it up) and Wycliffe’s Bible, but that knowledge of climate change is only optional.

Find out more about the government’s consultation on the National Curriculum.

Ash Dieback and the threat to our cultural trees

Brian Muelaner – Ancient Tree Adviser for the National Trust gives his overview of ash dieback and how it could affect our ancient trees:

One would have to have been living in a bubble over the past six months not to be aware that Britain’s ash trees are seriously at threat from Chalara fraxinea, a fungal pathogen commonly called ash dieback. Since this fungus was first identified barely 10 years ago it has swept across northern Europe from Poland causing massive dieback of ash trees of all ages and sizes. It now appears to be deeply embedded within the countryside of England and to a lesser extent Scotland and Wales, putting at risk some of Britain’s most important trees.

Since ancient times, well before the Roman’s came to Britain, ash trees were important for providing ‘tree hay’, particularly in upland situations where the severe climate made it difficult to produce traditional hay. This practice has taken place in upland regions across Europe. Trees were pollarded every three to five years in the summer, removing all of the tree’s branches above browsing height at around eight feet. The branches were collected and tied into faggots and stored under cover till winter when they were fed to the stock.

Muelaner

Ash Pollards in Sweden

The practice still survives in some countries, such as in Sweden, through grant aid to help preserve these biologically and culturally important trees. Farmers still regularly pollard ash trees to feed to their cattle in winter. Ash leaves have a much higher level of protein than traditional grass hay.

The landscape in some of the dales in Cumbria such as Langdale and Borrowdale is littered with ash pollards which are many hundreds of years old, yet these are small hollow trees, kept small from the repeated cutting over centuries. The Trust has restored the practice of pollarding these old trees to prevent their collapse as the limbs become too heavy for the fragile shells of the trunks to be able to support. We have even recorded ash pollards on farms as far south as in east Cornwall, which were almost certainly historically managed to provide tree hay. In Cornwall the wet climate makes producing traditional hay a risky business, so before the advent of silage tree hay was a safer option. 

At Dyrham Park in South Gloucestershire there are several dramatic ancient ash pollards which are the sole remnants of an older landscape now incorporated within the designed deer park. These very fragmented old trees are all that remain of a time before the great landscapers created the beautiful parklands we know and love.

Down in Branscombe in East Devon the ancient ash pollards were used for a very different but equally important purpose. Here the trees’ branches were cut on a longer cycle of every 10 to 15 years to provide fuel for the village bread oven. We forget just how significant a role trees have historically played in providing us with warmth and cooking before coal and electricity.

Muelaner

Ash pollards in Brascombe

All of these trees could disappear in the next decade or two as Chalara fraxinea slowly sweeps across the country. We must continue to survey and record these wonderful old trees as quickly as we can before they are sadly lost forever.

  • Brian Muelaner – Ancient Tree Adviser for the National Trust. I advise on how best to manage these special trees to preserve their natural lives. I am often among trees many hundreds of years old, some are a thousand years or more and still quite healthy. I am coordinating a national survey of all ancient and notable trees on Trust land. To date we have recorded a remarkable 25,000 trees and still have many more properties to survey. I am also compiling an inventory of the hundreds of Trust avenues.

The National Trust Commonwealth of Natural and Cultural Heritage?

Common values for Commonwealth Day

Unless you have a particular interest in legacy international organisations or are directly employed by the Foreign Office, chances are that you don’t know what today is. For the past 37 years the second Monday in March has been Commonwealth day to 30% of the world’s population- the percentage of these people conscious of this fact is another question. While it has a certain official status, Commonwealth Day is not a public holiday in most Commonwealth countries and there is little public awareness of it.

As another hangover of the long defunct British Empire the Commonwealth of Nations has been a somewhat underplayed and undervalued organisation- lacking in meaning, purpose and direction. However much of that is to change if politics can be believed:

“For the first time in the Commonwealth’s 64-year history, all of the Heads of Government belonging to the organisation have agreed to adopt a Commonwealth Charter. This means that the Commonwealth now has a single document which sets out basic values that the people of the Commonwealth believe in and which they expect their governments to support and protect.”

The Royal Commonwealth Society

Queen at CHOGM 2011 (C) Commonwealth Secretariat

The Commonwealth- just another international “talking shop”?

Britain’s relationship with the world has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, however due to historical influences Britain still has a substantial legacy and responsibility to many worldly nations. In much the same way the National Trust since its founding in 1895 has inspired the birth of a wealth of directly modelled ‘national trusts’ throughout the world, so too do the NT’s responsibilities exceed lines drawn on a map. Being one of the oldest and largest of these trusts the National Trust has a duty to encourage co-operation and take leadership to forward matters of international importance, from universal policy to issues of heritage conservation and climate change. The National Trust is often used as a source of advice and direction for these smaller world wide trusts; due to this a need was seen to create a supranational platform through which to provide professional advice and coordination between the trusts- INTO.

Another important but relatively unknown transnational organisation is the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO). Although established recently in 2007, the current iteration is a budding growth from roots put down in the International Conference of National Trusts (ICNTs) since 1978. INTO is a worldwide organisation created to bring together and co-ordinate the many similar non-governmental organisations (NGOs) concerned with shared commitments in protecting natural and built heritage.

INTO Logo“The overarching mission of INTO is to promote the conservation and enhancement of the cultural and natural heritage of all nations for the benefit of the people of the world.”

Simon Molesworth, Chairman of the Executive Committee, INTO

The National Trust is a founding member of INTO and hosts the Secretariat in our London office at Grosvenor Gardens, where a number of our staff share roles between the two NGOs. INTO’s birth was inspired by an obvious need to create a dedicated international platform for the national trusts. It’s no coincidence that the majority of INTO ‘member trusts’ worldwide are from countries also belonging to the Commonwealth.

Another interesting aspect of this integration is the venerable National Trust Membership. Purchase one adult NT membership at £55.50 on your visit to Stourhead in Wiltshire and you can gain further free entry to 1000’s of important cultural and natural sites across the world; from Fort Gomo Kadzamu in Zimbabwe and the Stuart Town Gaol in Australia to viewing the Sooke Potholes in Canada. Surely no other organisation can offer such a smorgasbord of entry to worldwide cultural treats, combined with political clout and influence with just one membership card? Perhaps the Commonwealth can learn a thing or two from the National Trust about worldwide integration and economic value!

The next ICNT- the 15th International Conference of National Trusts will take place in Entebbe, Uganda, from September 30th 2013 to October 4th 2013. Like Commonwealth Day this is a chance to celebrate the great diversity within most of the English speaking world- coupled with great unity through common aims and common values for the benefit of mankind.

  • Alec James has worked in the National Trust for the past 5 years in various Public Relations and Communication roles throughout the South West and Central Office. In his current role in the National Press Office he works largely in environmental, wildlife and government planning press work.