Last summer when I was there, an area had been electric fenced and cattle were grazing. There was hardly a scrap of edible vegetation left and I was tempted to phone the RSPCA out of concern for the cattles welfare. The only thing stopping me was that an adjacent area had been fenced and I assumed that the cattle were soon going to be moved into that area. The photograph below shows the area at that time.
The next photo shows the condition this spring of the adjacent area into which the cattle were moved.
On what planet is this appropriate habitat management? Can anyone guess why there are no Stonechats or Dartford Warblers around this year? The site is 'managed' by the National Trust so I could be accused of National Trust bashing - an increasingly popular sport in conservation circles. But it isn't that - they just happened to have provided a sufficiently extreme example that shows up reasonably well in photo's; I could provide examples of mis-management by virtually every other 'conservation' organisation.
Why is this happening (and, I believe, getting worse)? I believe it is because there are very few wardens these days who have an interest in, and therefore a knowledge of, wildlife. Universities don't teach students how to identify species and even if they did, the time available still wouldn't give students a comprehensive grounding - they need to want to look at wildlife in their own time. The trouble is that there is no incentive for them to do so because all employers are interested in is bits of paper and such nonsense as 'customer care skills'. I'm not kidding, a friend was interested in a job with Natural England last year and showed me their requirements. There were no questions about technical skills or knowledge but they did give you lots of room to describe your customer care skills. Luckily she either was intelligent enough not to apply or lucky enough not to get the job!
So what needs to be done? Well it will never happen but a solution would be for the person specifications for all jobs in conservation to be torn up and the following criteria applied:
1. For any role in nature conservation, the applicant must have a pan-species list of more than 1000, no more than 80% being in any one taxanomic group.
2. For a role having responsibility for the management of a SSSI, the applicant must have a pan-species list exceeding 2500, with no more than 50% being in any one taxanomic group.
I would like to set the targets higher but then there would be virtually no-one who could apply!
Why? Not because listing per se has any value whatsoever but if people have to see that many species they will actually have to spend time in the field and if they do that, they might actually learn something about what wildlife needs and then end up not trashing the reserves that they are the guardians of. One can but dream.......