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.