March 24, 2015, by Alex Kirby
Hedgehogs are one of the British species that are in steep decline.
Image: Karen Roe via Flickr
The devastating effects of a changing climate have become the biggest challenge faced by a leading protector of the UK countryside. LONDON, 24 March, 2015 − The head of one of the UK’s best-known conservation groups says the greatest threat to its work is now climate change. Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general of the National Trust, told BBC Radio that there is devastation of wild Britain and the creatures that live there. “Who would have thought that the house sparrow and hedgehog were going to become rare?” she said. “For the future − and we see this on our coastline, in our countryside, even in our houses − climate change, we think, is the big threat to us.” The Trust is the charity responsible for the care of countryside and historic houses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (a separate body does the work in Scotland). It is also one of Britain’s largest landowners, with 600,000 acres (250,000 hectares) and 700 miles (1,125 km) of coastline in its care, and more than 300 historic buildings − all held in trust for the future. About 20 million people go to the Trust’s houses and gardens annually, but 200 million visit its upland, lowland and coastal sites.
Destruction of habitats
Dame Helen said: “The main challenge to our conservation purpose is the destruction of habitats, of wildlife − the fact that we see precious species 60% in decline.” She suggested that, apart from climate, the other cause of that was intensive land management. When it comes to recognising the risks of a warming world, Dame Helen is certainly well qualified. As a former leading civil servant, one of her last jobs before joining the Trust was to head the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which at that time had climate change as one of its responsibilities. As part of its efforts to help address climate change, Dame Helen said the Trust would be getting 50% of the energy it uses in its houses and properties from renewable sources by 2020. For example, she said, there would be “lots of hydro schemes across the country, lots of biomass boilers” as part of the renewable energy policy. The Trust aims to reduce its own energy consumption by about 20%. It will also be working with its own tenant farmers, she said, “to try to make sure that land is farmed in environmentally-friendly ways − that we get production, and also the bees and the butterflies”. − Climate News Network
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.