As a consequence of the coronavirus lockdown and lost income, the National Trust for Scotland is looking at making a number of redundancies, including rangers and ecologists, which will seriously affect their ability to look after their land estates – including Mar Lodge Estate.
I believe the work that rangers and ecologists do on Mar Lodge Estate (and the other estates) is hugely valuable nationally as well as locally and will become more, rather than less, important as people return to the hills. In an ideal world their number would be increased rather than reduced.
What follows is the text of my letter to NTS CEO Simon Skinner. I have also written to my local MSPs in similar terms.
It would be good is people were inspired to write their own letters, or at least to find out more about the campaign to protect the ranger and ecologist posts and sign a petition to that effect at http://chng.it/5N4JrQBfMC
Ranger and ecology services
I have recently signed an online petition asking the National Trust for Scotland to reconsider its plans to make a large number of staff redundant because of the effects of the coronavirus lockdown.
However I felt that I should also explain to you my reasons for this and assure you that I speak in support of the aims and aspirations of the NTS. I appreciate your problems here, but would urge you to read and consider my arguments for protecting the ranger and ecology services which you have placed under threat.
I will speak principally about the ranger and ecology staff at Mar Lodge, because that is an area I am very familiar with, but I suspect my comments apply to all such staff wherever they may be employed.
As an owner of land – especially such culturally and ecologically important land, which has such a heavy visitor footprint – you cannot abrogate the responsibilities which go with the ownership. Land cannot be boarded up like built heritage.
I have known Mar Lodge Estate over a period of more than 50 years and remember well how it used to be when kept solely as a hunting estate. Since the National Trust for Scotland took over the estate there has been a massive and very obvious improvement in the health of the land, and I have seen and appreciated that difference. I have seen the amount of work which has gone into achieving this, and the importance of the role of ecologists to guide this work and of the rangers and other estate staff who carry it out, working with an admirable dedication and obvious love for the land.
But I have to be honest, I have also seen what they have NOT done: projects which are postponed or fall behind, plans half completed, aspirations unfulfilled. This is not for lack of gumption, skills or dedication, but for lack of resources – both financial and in manpower. I could walk with you around Mar Lodge Estate and point out countless examples of this – as I’m sure could your own team up there.
However direct conservation work is not the only role for your ranger and ecology staff, and I believe recent well-publicised instances of mass littering and abuse during the lockdown and initial easings underline more than anything an absolutely crucial role they have, which is carried out locally but with national importance – and that’s education.
While Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park perhaps has the most publicised problems with littering, campfires and other abuse, it is a national problem and certainly one that has occupied a significant amount of ranger time at Mar Lodge estate. Your ranger staff here and elsewhere do much to clear up as much of this damage as they can, but their real value here is in their public-facing role, not just as an admonitory presence but, more positively, in educating people about the countryside, helping them understand it as more than just the backdrop for a picnic. Even the slightest understanding of how it works as an ecosystem and how individuals can help care for it rather than unthinkingly destroy, has an influence which reaches beyond single individuals. This education isn’t a quick or easy job, but I believe rangers are better placed than most to help people learn to understand and to love the countryside and demonstrate the need for care and how to care for it. And the effect is not limited to the one NTS estate they work on. Rangers, with the support of the ecologists, are already engaged in this work, and to call a halt to it now, just when people are starting to return to the countryside – and to your estates – is surely an act of stewardship irresponsibility rather than pecuniary prudence.
On the subject of finance, you state in your explanation of the threatened redundancies that the magnitude of this year’s expected income losses is of a level similar to the Trust’s current financial reserves. Surely this is what financial reserves are for: they are held to enable the Trust to ride out temporary difficulties. Certainly, using them in their entirety would leave the Trust vulnerable to possible future threats, but these proposed redundancies pose an immediate threat to the Trust’s ability even to run estates such as Mar Lodge, Glen Coe and elsewhere on even a care and maintenance basis. They are open land, accessible to all (once restrictions ease, at least), so cannot be closed and boarded up like a building, and as I stated above, you have a huge duty of responsibility for these nationally important tracts of land.
I do appreciate financial realities mean you are unlikely to increase the staffing levels in ecology and ranger services, but I hope I have made a case for, at the very least, maintaining what small and dedicated teams you have.
I understand, too, that you are genuinely facing unprecedented financial difficulties, and am also writing to MSPs making these same arguments and urging them to do what they can to support you through this challenging period.
Please be assured I make these comments not in hostility but in a spirit of support and appreciation.