Following the failure of the National Trust to support Hen Harrier Day, there has been a backlash against the organisation from certain quarters, with many people tweeting their intention to resign their membership. This is an understandable, but ultimately misguided reaction.
As the largest conservation charity in the UK, and the owner of huge swathes of countryside, including many nature reserves and large parts of our National Parks, I believe that it is a moral duty for anybody with an interest in wildlife or the countryside to be a member of the Trust, both to fund the conservation work, and to facilitate the acquisition of further properties. It is surely far better that an organisation like the Trust should own such places than a landed aristocrat, or billionaire oligarch.
In the context of the South Pennines, the Trust owns four properties: East Riddlesden Hall, Hardcastle Crags, Holcombe Moor and Marsden Moor. Its management of these properties has in general been admirable, and certainly preferable to that of the water companies or grouse moors. Furthermore, if sufficient Trust members were able to persuade it to support our call for a South Pennines National Park, the campaign would be boosted immeasurably.
Crucially, membership of the Trust conveys voting rights at the AGM. This means that all members can vote for members of the governing Council, and on any motions that may be put before the AGM. There was anger at the failure of a motion put to the last AGM, which called on the Trust to oppose badger culling and introduce vaccination, but this was due to over 2000 people appointing the Chair as proxy (the so-called ‘handbag vote‘), rather than casting a vote in person. Any criticism should surely therefore be directed at those 2000, rather than at the Chair, who simply used the votes to support the Trust’s previously stated position, which was at least in part due to the financial cost of implementing badger vaccination across the Trust’s vast landholdings.
Those who oppose the Trust’s position on badger culling, or Hen Harrier Day, as I do, should be in no doubt that the vested interests who do not want this position to change well understand the power of Trust membership. The Country Land and Business Association already has a representative on the Council, and the Countryside Alliance put a candidate forward at the last Council election, though thankfully this failed. The message could not be clearer therefore; if you resign your membership, people who have no interest in wildlife or conservation (other than for ‘sporting’ purposes) will gain influence at your expense.