Rare butterflies booming at National Trust sites after conservation boost

Some of Britain’s rarest butterflies are booming at National Trust sites, a new report has found.

The study, led by charity Butterfly Conservation, revealed that rare species like Marsh Fritillary are bucking nationwide declines, with these ‘habitat specialist’ butterflies seeing their numbers grow by a tenth at National Trust sites since 1992.

It follows decades of work by National Trust advisers and rangers to protect the specialist habitats demanded by struggling butterfly species including the Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

The Trust, which this year pledged to create 25,000 hectares of new ‘priority’ nature habitats by 2025, is also working to restore numbers of farmland butterflies on its land to 1976-levels.

Researchers from Butterfly Conservation used results from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme to compare butterfly numbers at National Trust sites to those under other ownerships. They found that ‘habitat specialist’ butterflies such as the chalk grassland-loving Adonis Blue have increased in abundance by 13 per cent on National Trust land since 1992.

Overall, scarcer butterflies have declined by a quarter (25 per cent) in the British countryside in the last 25 years.

Matthew Oates, National Trust butterfly specialist, said: “Many of Britain’s scarcest butterflies are doing relatively well at our places, with rangers and tenant farmers working together to protect important habitats.

“Nationally, butterflies like the beautiful Duke of Burgundy are experiencing steady declines as a consequence of habitat loss and, most probably, climate change.”

Among the winners identified in the report led by Butterfly Conservation is the Marsh Fritillary, which has seen its numbers grow by five per cent year on year at National Trust sites over the last 25 years. In Ennerdale, Cumbria, the Trust is working with local Lake District farmer Judith Weston, grazing the wet flush grassland habitat with cattle to provide the perfect conditions for the Marsh Fritillary caterpillars.

In The Chilterns, Duke of Burgundy butterflies, whose numbers are stable on National Trust land compared to a moderate decline elsewhere, have benefitted from a 20-year effort by Trust rangers and partners to manage chalk grassland at Ivinghoe Hills and Dunstable Downs.

Professor Tom Brereton, head of monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “The results are highly encouraging and demonstrate that with targeted and tailored habitat management we can turn around the fortunes of many threatened butterfly species.”

Despite concerted effort, a small number of scarce species are still declining on National Trust land. They include the endangered High Brown Fritillary and Heath Fritillary butterflies.

The National Trust’s Matthew Oates added: “We are trying to better understand what’s behind the declines.”

More common butterfly species, such as the Meadow Brown and Large White, were found to be less abundant on National Trust sites than in the wider countryside. The charity’s specialists believe this may be a consequence of rangers managing sites for rarer species.

The National Trust now hopes to boost the number of farmland butterflies on its 200,000 acres of farmed land. The conservation charity has pledged to improve butterfly habitats on land in its care, with the hope of boosting the ranges of rarer ‘habitat specialists’ like Adonis Blue by 50 per cent.

The Trust will work closely with Butterfly Conservation to better manage butterfly sites and to monitor progress on these ambitions.

Updated media statement on Felbrigg badges

The National Trust was established “for the benefit of the Nation” and we passionately believe our purpose is to make everyone feel welcome at our places, as our founders would have wanted.

We are using the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality as an opportunity to tell the stories of the people at some of our places, whose personal lives were outside the social norms of their time.

We hugely value our volunteers and many across the country have taken the opportunity to get involved in developing our Prejudice and Pride programme, which explores LGBTQ heritage.

At Felbrigg, many volunteers have enthusiastically supported a new exhibition, which looks at the life of the extraordinarily generous Robert Ketton–Cremer.  His decision to leave the house to the Trust was the result in part of the fact that he had never married and had no heirs.

We asked all our staff and volunteers at the house to wear rainbow lanyards or badges during the six-week event as welcoming symbol to all our visitors.  We remain absolutely committed to our Pride programme, which will continue as intended, along with the exhibition at Felbrigg.

However, we are aware that some volunteers had conflicting, personal opinions about wearing the rainbow lanyards and badges. That was never our intention.

We are therefore making it clear to volunteers that the wearing of the badge is optional and a personal decision.  We will be speaking to all our volunteers at Felbrigg over the coming days about this issue.


Media statement on Volunteers and Prejudice and Pride programme

Annabel Smith, Head of Volunteering & Participation Development said:

“All of our staff and volunteers sign up to our founding principles when they join us – we are an organisation that is for ever, for everyone.  We are committed to developing and promoting equality of opportunity and inclusion in all that we do regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

“Relating specifically to the Prejudice and Pride programme, we do recognise that some volunteers may have conflicting, personal opinions.

“However whilst volunteering for the National Trust we do request and expect individuals to uphold the values of the organisation. We encourage people with any concerns to chat to our teams. As part of Prejudice and Pride we have worked closely with Stonewall and the University of Leicester who have been providing training and support to help as many volunteers as possible feel confident to take part.”

As part of our ‘Prejudice and Pride’ programme our staff and volunteers are wearing rainbow badges and lanyards, as an international symbol of welcome.

Some volunteers at Felbrigg have said they feel uncomfortable wearing these and we have offered them the opportunity to take a break from front facing duties if that’s what they would prefer.


Media statement on Felbrigg’s ‘The Unfinished Portrait’ film

Many of our places were home to, and shaped by, people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality.

We are proud to share a fuller portrait of Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer and do not attach shame to his sexuality. The people we interviewed were clear that we weren’t ‘outing’ him because amongst those who knew him, this was widely accepted.

Professor Richard Sandell, of the University of Leicester which has worked in partnership with the Trust on the project, said:

“I would strongly argue that we cannot perpetuate the values and attitudes of the past. You would only continue to conceal these truths if there was still a stigma attached to being gay. It is important to people today that we talk openly – just as we do about the personal lives of people who were heterosexual.

“We discovered so much more to Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer than what we know. He’s a well-known biographer of Thomas Gray and Robert Walpole, and discussed their same-sex desires in an open and honest way.

“But we also found beautifully written poetry, love poetry, from his time at Oxford when he was just 19 years old. We get a sense that it was difficult to be who he was. We know he would’ve been aware of what happened to people who were found to be homosexual, and that would be a difficult, if not terrifying, prospect.”

As a renowned researcher who studied and published biographies of important literary persons in the past with integrity, he would most likely have known that future research on his works, life and times might be studied and published, many of which were included in his bequest to the National Trust.

We think Stephen Fry summaries it quite well…

“Some have asked why this is necessary – why the lives of people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality should be made public and celebrated in this way. The answer is quite simple – to do anything less is to suggest that same-sex love and gender diversity is somehow wrong, and keeping these stories hidden only lets prejudice – past and present – go unchallenged.”

This is the link to the film. https://youtu.be/pdgaAdhapoc

Details of the National Trust’s Prejudice and Pride programme can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/prejudiceandpride


Full transcript of Helen Ghosh speech at BBC Countryfile Live

Thank you. It’s good to be back here at Blenheim to celebrate the best of our countryside, from wildlife and farming to outdoor pursuits and food, in partnership with Countryfile.

It’s been a year since I stood here, shortly after the Brexit decision, making the case that we should seize the opportunity to think again about how and why we use public money to support our countryside.   This is because, in all sorts of ways, the current EU subsidy system is broken.  Despite reform ten years or more ago, which did something to arrest decline, the current system of support for agriculture has resulted overall in a dramatic decline in nature and species, soils and water.

How has the debate gone since then?

Some reasons to be cheerful

Looking back, there are many reasons to be cheerful, though until they can be certain of what the future might look like, it may not feel like that for farmers worrying about their livelihoods and communities whose viability depends on agriculture.

One very positive development is that there is – more loudly than for a long time – a proper public debate going on about the role of farming and farmers in their vital job of food production and creating and protecting the environment and landscapes the public value.   Top billing on the Today programme, not just Farming Today, can’t do any harm.

It’s also good news that successive Defra Ministers – and now Mr Gove – have stuck to their commitment to produce a 25 Year Environment Plan to achieve the ambition of leaving the environment in a better place than we found it.    And within that vision, we have to do the right thing for farming – with 70% of the land in the UK farmed in some way, for the sake of the future health and productivity of our countryside and our environment we can’t afford to get it wrong.

The 25 Year Plan is an opportunity to set out a clear ambition for both farming and the environment, which will provide a strong foundation for the government’s proposed Agriculture Bill.   You can’t deal with one without the other.

Public payment for services

It is also encouraging that there is increasing consensus around the essential principles of any future vision for agriculture, with many of the bodies representing farmers and land managers, other conservation charities, environmental thinkers and individual farmers supporting the same ideas.

Two weeks ago, we heard Michael Gove echo the need for financial support for farming to be focused on public benefits and emphasise that support should go to land owners and managers who cultivate and protect the range of habitats which will benefit nature. He gave the example of planting trees – “a source of beauty and wonder” but also a carbon sink, a way to manage to flood risk and a habitat for precious species – which is effectively dis-incentivised by the current system of farm support under the CAP. The opportunity we now have to correct this, by better integrating agriculture and forestry, is another reason to be cheerful.

All these people are saying that – as far as public support is concerned – we should reward farmers who deliver the most public benefit; invest in science, new markets and technology; and crucially make sure public money only pays for the goods that the public values – thriving nature, beautiful landscapes and associated heritage – but for which other markets won’t pay.

And everyone is moving away from the idea that we should think of these as “subsidies”. They will be payments for services delivered – just like every other aspect of farming as a business.

New markets

We have also made progress in thinking about what those other – market-based – sources of income for farmers in a post-subsidy world might be. I’ll come back later to the debate that needs to be had about food and how farmers can be properly rewarded for this vital service.

We have been working with our partner organisation Green Alliance, for example, to think about new ways in which the private sector can support land management, tapping into new natural markets.

One such example is our ‘slow, clean water’ proposition, following on from our successful natural flood management project with farmers on the Holnicote Estate in Exmoor. Working with water companies, other businesses and leading landowners, we’re planning to turn our concept of a ‘natural infrastructure scheme’ into a workable proposition where groups of farmers working together would sell flood protection and clean water to water companies and public authorities downstream. We’ll be publishing a paper with Green Alliance shortly to set out how we can do this.
Business has just as great an interest as the public in clean water, healthy soils and well-managed carbon, and a motive for investing to ensure these are achieved in the most efficient way. Alongside their work with us on natural markets, Green Alliance have also been thinking about how this might work with the food industry Their proposals included introduction of new Natural Capital Allowances, to support investment by the food sector in environmental restoration, for example of soils. This would supplement – not replace – public payments to farmers and use public funding to leverage the private sector investment required to restore natural assets at the scale we need.

Underlying these kinds of payments for environmental services is the idea of Natural Capital Accounting – measuring the changes in the stock of natural assets like land, forests and rivers. It is very reassuring that the present Government is looking to Dieter Helm and the Natural Capital Committee for advice on how they might help define what good looks like and help measure the outcomes.

But it needs to be kept simple. Most people agree that some kind of “outcome-based” system of payment for public goods is needed, rather than a payment simply for owning a piece of land. But it needs to be flexible – for example to take account of the natural fluctuation in species or habitat.   And farmers need to be central to the process.

At Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales we’re working closely with a group of our tenant farmers to trial our own ‘payments for outcomes’ scheme, to see how this could work in practice. It’s not just aimed at paying for single, specialised habitats, but at whole farm outcomes. This outcomes-based approach and move to low input farming system will help create a more varied vegetation structure and vegetation types, boosting habitat diversity and condition but which could also contribute to natural flood management, enhance carbon storage in peat and trees and protection of archaeological and landscapes features. We’ve already taken Defra and Treasury staff to have a look and we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned more widely in due course. 

Cultural value

There is also a consensus that the future of farming is about much more than production. It’s intimately bound up with the culture and heritage in which production takes place, particularly through a period of inevitable change, whether that comes about as a result of climate change, world markets or the nature of public support.    And the uplands will be particularly vulnerable to those changes.


We will need to find ways in which to support the best of that culture – whether in the Lake District or rural Wales – while facilitating the change that will be needed.

A local approach

And another reason to be cheerful is the general acceptance that any new system needs to be much more sensitive to regional and local difference.   As a veteran of many Public Accounts Committee appearances,   I am under no illusion that neither the Treasury nor Parliament will hand out billions of pounds of public money without requiring very clear overarching frameworks and clear accountability.

But within those frameworks, most people – including Government – are saying that there should be regional or catchment based approach to planning for the environment and paying farmers for their part in it. Decision-making can be much more democratic, involving all the players – farmers, environmental agencies, business and communities.   That would also be a much more responsive structure to meet the very varied cultural, environmental and economic needs of each area.


This is all good news. But there are still a number of areas to worry about, and lots more work to do, and the clock is ticking.

Particularly concerning is the lack of clarity around the transition period. That’s a term much in the news at the moment, but in this case I mean it very specifically in relation to the move from the current Common Agricultural Policy – or CAP – to the new world.

Level of public support

The government has made an initial commitment to retain the current EU farm policy framework until 2020 and maintain the current £3bn level of support until 2022.  But we and the other environmental charities are clear that £3bn a year still will be needed into the foreseeable future, if we are to repair the historic damage, and do what we need to do to adapt to climate change, and restore soil and water quality, habitats, species, natural flood protection and damaged landscapes.

The Government’s own estimate in 2009 was that anything between £1bn and 3bn would be needed to do the job, and things have got worse since then. We along with RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts – will be producing an updated figure next month.

We need also clarity now about how the transition to any new arrangements will work and the money that will be available. Because the longer we wait, the more we risk losing all the gains we have made over the last decade – and creating a further decade of damaging uncertainty for our countryside.

We have already seen examples of short-term decision-making, where farmers – in response to uncertainty about the future and income – have chosen not to re-enter stewardship or have ploughed up pasture created with support from stewardship schemes back into arable to shore-up their immediate revenue streams.  Very understandable, but heart-breaking.

Taking action now

And we don’t have to wait until after 2020 to move in the right direction. By acting as soon as we leave the EU in 2019, Government could provide a strong and tangible signal of direction of travel post-CAP.    I know that Defra recently turned its face against the idea, but once we have left the EU in March 2019 we could transfer more of the £3bn CAP budget from Pillar 1 (which is paid on the basis of hectares owned) into Pillar 2, currently only £600m a year, which pays farmers to produce the additional environmental goods of all kinds that we desperately need. £800m on top of the current £600m more seems like a good figure to be getting on with. 



And we also need a national discussion about food. In one sense, this isn’t the National Trust’s business – we are not a food charity – but the issue is central to any vision for the future of agriculture.


As some of the recent commentary on possible trade deals has demonstrated, as a nation we still seem to be in a muddle about what we want from our food production, and the many trade-offs that need to be made, whether that’s price, animal welfare or costs to the environment (hidden or explicit).


For example, too often debates about food security – which will continue to rely on good, open trade deals – are confused with ideas of domestic self-sufficiency or ‘food sovereignty’, whether and why we need to become more self-sufficient and indeed whether it is achievable at all within global legal frameworks.


And the academics are still at odds about the most important drivers of the cost of food to the consumer – tariffs? World demand? Supermarket policy?   Do we want to focus on quantity or quality? Where do we think our natural advantage lies?  And – crucially – what do the public want?


The 25 year Plan and Agriculture Bill give government, farmers, land managers, retailers and the public an opportunity to have this discussion.   At the end of it, we need to create a situation in which sustainable and forward-looking farm businesses can thrive and deliver what the nation and the public want, within a framework of protection and restoration of all aspects of our precious natural environment.


The role of good regulation


A key part of that framework is currently provided by regulation, also a hot topic this week. In fact, politicians from all parties, environmental organisations and business have all supported the argument that the framework of environmental regulation that has been developed within the EU, including the overarching principles such as precaution and the polluter pays – should be transferred lock, stock and barrel in the post-Brexit world.


That is not to say that there are no improvements to be made to the current framework, but successive attempts to deregulate (I can’t remember how many red-tape taskforces I’ve seen come and go) show that most of those involved, including the public, recognise that current standards involved are reasonable and that you need a transparent and even-handed regulatory framework is one in which businesses – including farms – can thrive and the public will have confidence. You don’t hear many calls from the public to deregulate – whether on food safety standards or environmental protection.  Business wants a level-playing field, not a free-for-all.  So good environmental regulation will need to go hand-in-hand with any new system of incentives for environmental outcomes.  The key thing is clarity and well-handled enforcement, sensitive to local needs.

How to measure success

Finally, we need agreement on how to set our ambitions for nature and the environment.  In his recent speech, the Secretary of State talked about the need to include measurable goals in the 25 year plan and we fully support this. One idea would be to chunk up our long term ambitions into five year nature or natural asset budgets, flexible to local needs and circumstances, as we do Carbon Budgets under the Climate Change Act.

What farms of the future might look like

Anyone who is a farmer now, and people thinking of it as a future career, must find the agenda daunting. Because of all the many things that skilled and caring management of the countryside can offer the nation, the expectations will be high.   Food production, soil improvement, flood management, heritage protection, beauty of landscape – so many things that the nation wants from what are essentially a small and medium enterprises (or ‘SMEs’), with all the human and economic challenges involved in running any business.

And this is where Government and its resources have a strong role to play – funding the advice, training and capital investment schemes that will help our farmers gain the skills and confidence to become managers of rural SMEs. These will trade on all the natural and cultural assets that our wonderful countryside embodies.

The good news – again – is that there are many already reassuring examples of what this can look like. One of our neighbours in the Yorkshire Dales, farmer Chris Clarke at Nethergill, is one of those leading the way, trying a different financial model which also drives great conservation gains.

Chris has reduced his livestock numbers to cut costs on his 400-acre holding at Nethergill and to make the farm more profitable. He cares deeply for his land and the deep peat covering the upper reaches, so grazes sensitively to protect this and allow the establishment of some 18,000 new trees, developing new native woodland areas and delivering great wildlife benefit. He and his wife Fi are passionate about the wildlife and habitats he’s breathed new life into over the last 10 years, from the curlews wheeling overhead to the otters in the beck.

But his second passion and expertise is in making farming work pay. His recipe is simple: know your balance sheet, understand your cash flows, go for high margins not high volumes; avoid all unnecessary costs.  And he has revealed that small numbers of farm animals, with value added to their production at every turn, is where the margins start to look attractive.  He takes frugality in managing input costs for his livestock to a new level.  His native shorthorn cattle and sheep largely look after themselves, and the land supports only what it has the capacity to manage, all year round.In partnership with a local butcher and chef, Chris and Fi have created ready-meals which sell locally and to the guests they welcome to their self-catering accommodation, which achieves 75% occupancy with an increasing numbers of walkers visiting the area.  Passing trade visits a ‘nature barn’ with simple honesty food and drink available, which adds a further £4k to the annual revenue pot.  Visitors and providing for their needs are now the majority component in his annual financial picture.

As Chris proves, this different route is possible. But we will need some brave advocacy and hard numbers to make the arguments and win the case. Government can provide this leadership and sense of direction now.


Someone once told me that you need two things to achieve your ambitions – stamina and optimism.   The government’s ambition is for this generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it.  And we are within touching distance of a vision for the future of farming that sees thriving businesses successfully meeting the needs of [the nation] into the 21st century and beyond.

I believe that there are grounds for optimism that we can achieve both.   And I can assure you that the National Trust has the stamina to play its part.


Government must act on Brexit promises now to avoid decade of damaging uncertainty


Britain’s countryside faces a decade of damaging uncertainty unless the Government acts now to deliver on its Brexit promises, the director-general of the National Trust says today.
Farming and wildlife have their greatest opportunity in a generation thanks to recent commitments by the Government to reward nature-friendly agriculture, Helen Ghosh will say.
She will tell BBC Countryfile Live: “We are within touching distance of a vision for the future of farming that sees thriving businesses successfully meeting the needs of the nation into the 21st century and beyond.”
However, waiting to formally leave the EU will be too late, she warns, as it could take up to 10 years from today for new support packages to be in place.
“The longer we wait, the more we risk losing all the gains we have made over the last decade,” Helen will say.
The director-general, who last year called on ministers to seize the opportunity posed by Brexit, said farmers can feel optimistic about their prospects again if Government promises become policy before we part company with Brussels.
Affordable, high-quality food and wildlife-friendly methods can be secured if the Government…
*Maintains the £3billion-a-year support package for the industry, with clear incentives for nature-friendly farming.
*Ensures £800 million of defunct pillar one greening subsidies are redirected in 2019 into more effective incentive systems rewarding farmers for working in unison with the natural environment.
*Clearly guarantee and reassure farmers that environmental protections will be maintained or strengthened.
Helen warns current uncertainty is prompting some farmers to revert to intensive methods for short-term profits, damaging long-term agriculture and dwindling wildlife.
“We have already seen examples of short-term decision-making, where farmers – in response to uncertainty about the future and income – have ploughed up pasture which was created with support from EU environmental money,” she said. “It’s very understandable, but heart-breaking.”
Helen says that the “clock is ticking” for the Government to provide clarity before the EU cash-flow ends.
The conservation charity has been working in close partnership with farmers to build a bright post-Brexit future in which farming can thrive, nature can be revived, and cultural heritage is protected in some of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes.
Helen said in a speech to the Uplands Alliance in January that “the future of farming is bound up with the future of nature: without a healthy natural environment the long term viability of farming is in question.”
Today she will say that the Government will need to extend its initial £3billion support package commitment for the “foreseeable future, if we are to repair the historic damage, adapt to climate change, and restore soil and water quality, habitats, species, natural flood protection and damaged landscapes.”
By redirecting £800million of watered-down EU green subsidies, the Government could almost double the pot available to support nature-friendly farming to around £1.5billion.
The Government’s Agriculture Bill and 25 year plan will give the UK a much-needed debate for what the nation wants from farming and the countryside in the 21st Century, Helen said.
“This includes the vital question of our role as a food producer, and can create much-needed certainty for farmers,” she added.
There is no need to wait, she says, because there is already consensus in Government, farming and the countryside that the new model must reward farmers who deliver the most public benefit.
“At the end of it, we need to create a situation in which sustainable and forward-looking farm businesses can thrive and deliver what the nation and the public want, within a framework of protection and restoration of all aspects of our precious natural environment.”
The Trust will also be discussing and working with devolved administrations in securing a farming settlement post-Brexit that delivers nature-friendly, sustainable farming.