Decades of poor land management, intensive farming and the loss of habitat have sent wildlife numbers tumbling, with 60% of species declining in the UK over the last 50 years.
Under plans unveiled on Monday, the National Trust has pledged to try to reverse this decline, through its own actions and working with partners. It is one of the biggest land managers in the UK, numbering hundreds of tenant farmers among its estates, as well as woodland, beauty spots, coastline, rivers and historic properties.
It now plans to develop new ways of managing land on a large scale, which it said would benefit farmers, the economy and the environment. These could include providing more habitats for birds, animals and insects to improve their numbers, and measures to protect fragile soils that are under threat from erosion.
Helen Ghosh, director general of the trust, said: “The protection of our natural environment and historic places over the last 100 years has been core to the work of the trust but it has never been just about looking after our own places. The natural environment is in poor health. We can’t keep taking it for granted.”
Many of the changes the trust wants to make would need 30 years or more to take effect, she said. “This is a long-term commitment, for the benefit of generations to come.”
Climate change had become the biggest threat to the National Trust’s properties, the charity said, and as well as protecting and repairing buildings to cope with that, the trust would continue its programme of energy efficiency and renewable energy, with a pledge to cut energy use by a fifth by the decade’s end.
By then, half of its remaining energy use will be from renewable sources, such as solar power. In the past, the charity’s commitment to renewables has come under question from some quarters, because of the opposition to wind turbines of the previous chairman, Simon Jenkins.
Ghosh promised that the next decade for Europe’s biggest conservation charity would see it work more with other charities, government, businesses and local communities to “improve the quality of the land and attract wildlife back to the fields, woods and river banks”.
Another part of the plan is to help protect public green spaces used by local communities that are under threat from budget cuts.
Tim Parker, chairman of the 120-year-old trust, said: “The National Trust has always responded to the challenges of the time. I believe our founders would be proud of our ambitions and the part we plan to play.”