For those of you who did not spot the announcement in March of this year,
The National Trust is to go back to its roots after admitting it had lost sight of one of its core founding principles – to protect wildlife – in its quest to maintain country houses and estates. Under ambitious new plans, the Trust will create over sixty thousand acres of new habitats by 2025 to reverse the dramatic slump in some of Britain’s most-loved plants and animals, such as water voles, natterjack toads and cuckoos. All tenant farmers will be encouraged to create wildlife corridors, establish lowland wild flower meadows and wetlands, maintain hedgerows, improve water and soil quality, install ponds and plant new woodland.
This should make for exiting times at Ashridge, where we have five farms, a hundred acres of open common awaiting restoration, miles of hedgerows and some thirty ponds in need of attention. In it’s founding principles in 1895 the Trust pledged to preserve animal and plant life for the nation, as well as looking after places and buildings of beauty and historic interest.
Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation for the National Trust, said the charity had a duty to help prevent wildlife decline, which currently affects 56 per cent of British species. “Nature has been squeezed out to the margins for far too long. We want to help bring it back to the heart of our countryside,” he said. “Our charity was founded to protect our natural heritage and we believe we should be playing an active role in reviving it by doing what we can on our own land. Despite the battering it’s taken over many decades, nature has an incredible ability to rejuvenate and revive if given the conditions to thrive. Birds such as the cuckoo, lapwing and curlew are part of the fabric of our rural heritage. But they’ve virtually disappeared from the countryside. We want to see them return to the fields, woods and meadows again, along with other wildlife which was once common and is now rare.”
At Ashridge this will no doubt take into account the decline in the reptile population, along with birds like the corn bunting and partridge. One hundred years ago the stone curlew bred on the downland. Ashridge have already taken steps to reverse the decline in the small blue population of butterflies by propagating their food plant – the kidney vetch – and the exotically beautiful pasque flower now graces Piccadilly Hill after reintroduction.
Locals can remember when the field behind the Visitor Centre – Meadleys first mentioned in 1315 – was a seventeen acre wild flower meadow.
Marian Spain, CEO of Plantlife International has said: “Half of our Important Plant Areas, botanical hotspots of international importance, includes land belonging to the National Trust. Plantlife is already working with the Trust on how to manage their land for threatened plants like cornfield flowers and oakwood lichens, and how to create wild flower meadows”.
This is all well and good but who will drive it forward at Ashridge, and where will the funding come from, and what about the manpower? Step up the volunteers!