The John Muir Trust is a community-focused conservation charity, dedicated to the experience, protection and repair of wild places across the UK. They own seven estates in Scotland. They also care for land in partnership with a range of other organisations.
In addition to direct management of land, the Trust aims to develop principles and practices that will inspire anyone who owns or manages land. We spoke about land management planning with Land Operations Manager (North), Richard Williams.
The planning process
The Trust has been developing a new Strategic Plan, on which they have consulted with a wide range of stakeholders and communities. The plan sets a framework for site-specific plans, Richard explains. “Some of our strategic objectives are specifically about how we manage the land in our care, whilst others are more focused on how we use land to inspire and engage with others.”
The Trust’s strategic objectives are:
l Demonstrate exemplary management of wild places.
l Inspire people and communities to benefit from and advocate for wild places.
l Influence government and land managers to protect wild places.
l Strengthen societal understanding of the value of wild places.
l Exemplify best practice in our organisation for all.
The most obvious aspects of exemplary management, for a conservation organisation, are biodiversity and carbon sequestration, Richard says. “We are clear on the need to demonstrate how wild places can contribute to a just transition to net zero.
“Then there’s access, both physical in terms of the condition of paths, car parks, etc., as well as access opportunities for diverse groups to experience, get involved with and use the property – not just for walks but as an opportunity to learn about wild places and develop new skills. Linked to that are interactions with the local community – ongoing dialogue and relationships – some of which are ad hoc and some more formalised around events and opportunities.”
The Trust’s Management plans were last updated in 2019 and will be reviewed in 2022, and five-yearly thereafter. Property-specific actions will continue as the focus in each plan, closely aligning with the Trust’s strategic objectives. The detail under each objective will vary, of course, depending on the characteristics of each site.
“A site plan will not just be about management of the land,” Richard explains. “It will include how we intend to deliver our engagement and education objectives, for example. It will look at our properties in a broader context – how they sit within the wider suite of our activities.”
Plans will be shorter and more accessible, with detail in appendices. “Highlights will be at the front, for context. There’ll be an introduction to the site history and what’s there now, then an audit of our management standards as a planning framework.”
Balancing organisational objectives with local needs and priorities can be challenging, Richard says. “We start by linking everything to our charitable and strategic objectives. Wild Places is the key. There’s an emphasis on how we go about things, as much as on the objectives – and on how we involve local communities in our work and seek to identify and deliver benefit for them.”
A good example is Quinag in Sutherland, a wild area of heather moors, grassy hillsides, peat bogs and remnants of ancient woodland, which sits within a mix of community owners, privately-owned estates and eNGOs (environmental non-governmental organisations). “Quinag is part of the Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape, lying within the NorthWest 2045 project area,” Richard explains, “which is one of five Regional Land Use Partnership pilot areas in Scotland.
“Many people are broadly in agreement with our aim – landscape-scale habitat restoration – but they might not all agree about how best to get there, or how fast. We’re keen to explore community involvement in and benefit from the activities, so the endpoint is a more diverse, resilient and connected landscape that enhances carbon capture and biodiversity. These activities might include helping to plant trees, education projects with local schools and training opportunities for the wider community.”
For some organisations, endpoint delivery is the entire focus, with limited engagement. But these landowners miss out on opportunities, both for themselves and their communities, Richard says. “We believe it’s important to find alignment with local educational and job creation objectives. With our endpoint always in mind, we seek to identify and build opportunities for community involvement and benefit along the way.
The Trust’s strategic objectives are shared with local community groups – asking where there is a match between the Trust’s aims and what the community wants to achieve, and where there are gaps. This is high level initially but it’s important, Richard feels, to get community input early and to get it as right as possible at strategic level. “There will be more conversation and engagement when regional and property-specific plans are being developed and revised.”
In terms of the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, John Muir Trust is strongly supportive and “believes that how land is managed is key to both its environmental quality and the social and economic benefits it provides, regardless of who owns it.”
The John Muir Trust is committed to planning and engagement as ongoing processes, Richard says. “There do come points in a new plan where there’s an obvious reason for engagement. But you learn so much more through ongoing dialogue – both with individuals and by participating in community stakeholder network groups. Everyone benefits from sharing of ideas, experience and plans.”
Any kind of landowner can do this, Richard believes. “If landowners are simply maintaining the status quo, there is perhaps less impetus to consult. But not being aware of the impact of ongoing activities means missed opportunities for collaborative approaches.
“Climate change and biodiversity targets have created an imperative for change. In the current context if landowners are not reviewing their land management, and planning change to deliver better climate and environmental outcomes, you would have to ask: ‘Why not?’”
Find out more
John Muir Trust
Phone: 01796 470080