Recognising conservation management

The Wildlife Estates label helps publicly recognise efforts of landowners pursuing excellence in wildlife management and conservation
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The CLA consistently highlights that in the face of a biodiversity crisis, land managers hold the key to restoring nature. With increasing pressure to demonstrate green credentials, some landowners are opting for voluntary accreditation. The Wildlife Estates label recognises land managed to the highest environmental standards and brings together land managers who can share ideas and best practice on conservation management. It was conceived by the European Landowners Organisation in 2005, on the belief that rural estates can solve many environmental problems. There are now 1.9m hectares accredited across Europe. Each country has its own version of the label, tailored to suit its needs and context. The Wildlife Estates Scotland label launched in 2013, with more than 500,000 ha accredited. England piloted a version of the scheme in 2015, and details have been continually developed since.

A landowner-led scheme

Accreditation has two levels. Level one is a commitment to the principles of good wildlife management, and is for businesses that are interested in the idea and want to do more. Level two is a formal accreditation, independently audited, that looks at the detail of wildlife and environmental management. The Earl of Leicester, Chair of Wildlife Estates England and Wales, describes achieving level two as a “gold standard” aimed at “those with a real interest in the improvement of biodiversity on your land”. Voluntary accreditation can help demonstrate the role of privately managed land in delivering nature recovery. It has been designed by and for land managers, with a holistic view of how different parts of a rural business can contribute to the environment. For the many CLA members who are already delivering benefits for wildlife, accreditation provides independent recognition. This can show local communities, customers and peers that biodiversity and natural capital are central business considerations. The CLA hopes that this, in turn, will be recognised by Defra and private investors, making it easier to access funding and opportunities.

Understanding your natural capital

The accreditation process can be a learning experience. The core of Wildlife Estates accreditation is a detailed assessment of the land holding, identifying the wildlife species and habitats on the land. Although not described as such, this information is the basis for an assessment of the holding’s natural capital. Being well-informed and having the data at your fingertips can help those looking to take advantage of future opportunities from environmental management, whether funded by government or private institutions. Accreditation also evaluates how different types of land are managed – for example, any forestry, agriculture or other enterprises. Applicants must demonstrate that their natural capital assets are well managed for wildlife and other environmental benefits.

The future of Wildlife Estates

There has been much activity to develop a Wildlife Estates accreditation for England and Wales. A pilot with volunteer estates led to a refinement of the requirements. The CLA and Wildlife Estates England and Wales also took part in a Defra-funded Environmental Land Management (ELM) trial to examine the value of the accreditation in demonstrating conservation management best practice. The policy stars should be aligned for Wildlife Estates, with its focus on nature recovery and delivering environmental public goods. The new ELM schemes, the commitment to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030 and commitments to support and develop private environmental markets all point toward the opportunities of managing land with wildlife in mind. Wildlife Estates has been embraced by those already making space for wildlife on their land. With policy changes, more land managers are likely to have an interest in doing this. Wildlife Estates is a ready-made forum where those who have been doing practical conservation can speak to each other and wider society.

Case study: Plowden Estate

Nestled in the South Shropshire AONB, Plowden Estate achieved Wildlife Estates accreditation in 2021. The 3,500-acre agricultural estate comprises dairy, arable and livestock farming through in-hand, tenancy and contract arrangements. It also has residential cottages, sporting and commercial lets and a heritage management plan.

CLA member Roger Plowden discovered Wildlife Estates while on the CLA’s Policy Committee. Impressed by the advantages for promoting natural capital and biodiversity, he prepared an application. “It provides an incentive to assess existing natural capital,” says Roger. “This can help plan our 25-year improvement journey. We want to be an exemplar and showcase excellence in biodiversity – we are not there yet, but we have plenty to build on. “When applying, we saw the label as a fast track into the new environmental schemes and going above and beyond what is required.

“We are building a team of local experts conducting different baseline surveys into our natural capital, such as ecology, fungi, birds, butterflies and beetles. It is inspiring, and has made us think about the habitats and food sources these species need. “The label also encourages collaboration, and we are looking to improve wildlife corridors based on our water courses, hedgerows, and small woodlands. We are involving our fishing club on the river, our woodland management team, and, of course, our farmers.

“I found it enlightening to find out about what we have on the estate – the label brings it all together. A key factor is farming and how it needs to change due to climate change and energy costs – we are moving towards more regenerative systems, with less artificial inputs.”

Reporting by Jasmin McDermott

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