Setting Priorities for grasslands

Over the past 6 months or so I’ve been working on the Grasslands Trust’s new conservation strategy, with a lot of help from my team, Lucy, our Trustees and conservation committee experts. It’s been an interesting process – and an important one. In times when resources are very restricted, it’s more important than ever to identify what the priorities are and focus relentlessly on them.

We’ve identified three overall strategic priorities – protecting special grasslands, restoring degraded grasslands, and connecting people to grasslands. Originally I put all three of these on an equal footing within the strategy, but after a number of comments, changed it so protection is more important than restoration. This after all is enshrined in the mitigation hierarchy “conserve first, restore second, create third”.

What about connecting people to grasslands though – should that be equally important as protecting special grasslands? After all without people’s support TGT will not be able to fulfil its purpose, whether that be through lack of funds or lack of pairs of hands to help with the work, from cutting scrub to writing letters to MPs.

Our work can be divided into four areas, though some are at the moment more aspirational than others. These are Direct Conservation (local grassland projects, reserves); Policy development and advocacy; Raising awareness, advice and promotion; and Research.

I don’t feel it’s really possible to say one of these is more important than another -what do you think? They all play vital roles  – without the evidence provided by research, direct conservation projects might end up barking up the wrong tree, or reforms to critical policies might end up being counterproductive. And there’s little point running a top notch local grassland project (like the Weald Meadows Initiative now called Weald Meadows Nectar Networks) if you’re not going to use it to raise awareness of the needs of grasslands outside that local area, or to illustrate the impacts of agricultural policies on semi-natural grasslands.

There’s also the wider question of how we fit into the wide array of organisations and individuals already working in grassland conservation. There seems little point in our focussing on acquiring many grassland nature reserves, when the National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and others already have so many. Policy work on the other hand had not really been tackled for grasslands until we made it a real priority and we are starting to reap dividends, though it’s a long term commitment and very difficult to fund.

So coming up with a way to identify the priorities on which we will focus is not easy. Should existing projects be given more weight than new ones, given the investment already made – or are we in danger of falling into the sunk cost fallacy. What about funding – should we bias our priorities in favour of those that are easiest to fundraise for?

I’ve nearly reached the end of the process of writing this strategy, with a hopefully lively discussion with our conservation committee this Saturday. But I’d like to know what you think our priorities should be. Let me know.

Miles King

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About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
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4 Responses to Setting Priorities for grasslands

  1. David Dunlop says:

    Building partnerships to benefit from economies of scale and share the work? Yes, I know I would say that, wouldn’t I?!

  2. Thanks Dave – good to hear from you. Yes building partnerships is completely right – that’s why we’ve established the UK Grasslands Forum to bring together all the key players across the UK with an interest in grassland conservation. Professor John Rodwell is chairing the Forum brilliantly and I hope the Forum will continue to develop and become the place where the most important discussions around grassland conservation take place, and where joint projects and partnership working can be created.

  3. Paul Beevers says:

    Absolutely agree with building partnerships. The conservation movement needs a body like TGT though to bat for grasslands but the space is becoming crowded and conservation risks being accused of being too fragmented and wasteful of the money it receives and of fragmenting its influence as well. I think that the 3 prongs are fine but the research has been long overdue and I for one welcome it and want to see it influence policy. That is where the big changes will come from. The TGT still has to be able to identify and respond to threats and opportunities to protect sites but presumably they happen in an ad hoc way so are not easy to predict or plan for or find the resources for. Education is a problem for everyone involved in conservation but interestingly my experience is that the sharp end of protection is the education of Councillors and Council Officers who operate the planning system. The new planning system is a case in point where there are opportunities to challenge existing assumptions and ways of doing things and provide alternative approaches that use the new planning guidance. The TGT could help that. Reconnecting all ages with environmental issues is a national problem, probably best addressed through partnerships again.

    • thanks very much for your comments Paul. The planning area is one we struggle to cover effectively, as you know. Because of resources, we decided to opt for providing advice to interested communities rather than tackling individual planning applications. I think we can still improve on the advice we provide, whether it be through advisory information on the website or individually tailored advice in special cases. Because of the state of the economy the threats from development at the moment are less severe than they were, but that will change and TGT will need to be ready to take them on when the time comes. For education, you’ll be happy to hear that TGT is starting to develop its strategy for learning and I think this is something that will develop significantly over the next year.

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